ELI5: What is cognitive automation?



The more time you spend looking into the world of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, the more terms there are to demystify. Various AI abilities, the different ways a machine can learn, and different types of automation all make for a complex glossary of terms to navigate.

One emergent type of automation – and newer term to navigate – is called cognitive automation. It combines the worlds of automation, AI and cognitive computing.

But what does it mean on a high level? Here’s a quick overview of cognitive automation.


What is cognitive automation?

Cognitive automation is the name given to the combination of cognitive computing and automation software.

Put simply, then, it’s automation that uses technologies that mimic human thought and action. For example, machine learning, natural language processing, computer vision, and so on. With these tools, cognitive automation can be used to automate more complex tasks than traditional automation programs.

Another way to think of it is as a form of automation that sits at the higher end of intelligent automation. It’s about using all available AI abilities to mimic human thought and behaviour to automate higher-level processes.


Terminology: cognitive computing

While there’s no hard and fast definition for cognitive computing, it’s generally understood to refer to computing technology that mimics the functioning of the human brain. Cognitive computing overlaps with AI, using similar technologies at its foundation. (Such as neural networks.)

While AI is not intended to mimic human thoughts, (instead using the best possible algorithm) cognitive computing is all about replicating the way a human would approach problems.


Why use cognitive automation?

Using cognitive automation unlocks more automation possibilities, as more processes and data become viable for automation. It renders vast volumes of unstructured data more useful, as well as performing automated analysis of it.

Cognitive automation, like other automation applications, also brings heightened efficiency and promotes productivity.


Cognitive automation vs…

Another way to understand cognitive automation is to compare it to other, related technologies.

•       … Robotic process automation (RPA)

If cognitive automation sits at the higher end of the intelligent automation spectrum, you might consider robotic process automation to sit at the low end. RPA cannot handle the more complex processes (i.e. those that require some semblance of thought/cognition). What it does do, however, is use robots to automate on the user interface level, rather than in the back-end.

•       … Intelligent automation

Cognitive automation is intelligent automation, just a more precise name for the type/methods used to create intelligent, automated processes and workflows. I.e., cognitive automation mimics human behaviour.

•       … Artificial intelligence

AI is an umbrella term for many technological abilities. Things like computer vision, machine learning, and natural language processing all fall under this umbrella.

Cognitive automation uses these technological abilities to mimic the way humans do things and support humans with making decisions.


Another way of automating

The worlds of AI and automation are rapidly evolving. And with that comes all manner of new terms and differing levels of technology application.

The long and short of it is, cognitive automation is another new way of automating processes, using functionality that has evolved under the AI banner. (And with a hint of human methods thrown in for good measure.)


Useful links

What is machine learning? A beginner’s guide

ELI5: what is image classification in deep learning?

ELI5: what is an artificial neural network?


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