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article imagePaging Dr. Watson: IBM supercomputer to enter medicine field

By Andrew Moran     May 24, 2011 in Technology
Armonk - Watson, the IBM supercomputer who answered "Jeopardy" questions with precise accuracy and at rapid-fire speeds, is now becoming a doctor. Watson is soon to become a bedside medical assistant to help medical professionals.
Watson, named after the first president of IBM Thomas J. Watson, is a successful artificial intelligence supercomputer. The IBM machine, which became the all-time best winner on “Jeopardy” earlier this year, can process 500 gigabytes worth of information per second. Its sources of information include encyclopedias, newswire reports, thesauri and dictionaries.
The supercomputer will now be consumed with journals and textbooks that focus on medicine. It will also answer questions from medical students. Soon its database may be fed with blog entries from patients to better understand their condition(s).
This process is being done in the hopes of assisting the doctors at hand to give them quick and precise answers instead of going through complex language and volumes of medical information, according to an IBM press release.
IBM will be partnering with Nuance Communications. IBM will combine Watson’s Deep Question Answering (QA), Natural Language Processing, and Machine Learning capabilities with Nuance’s speech recognition and Clinical Language Understanding (CLU).
Photograph of Watson s avatar on IBM s Jeopardy set.
Photograph of Watson's avatar on IBM's Jeopardy set.
“Combining our analytics expertise with the experience and technology of Nuance, we can transform the way that healthcare professionals accomplish everyday tasks by enabling them to work smarter and more efficiently,” said senior vice president and director of IBM Research, Dr. John E. Kelly III. “This initiative demonstrates how we plan to apply Watson's capabilities into new areas, such as healthcare with Nuance.”
Test runs are already underway. CBS News reports that Watson was given information about a fictional patient who suffered from eye problems. During this demonstration, more symptoms were given to Watson, such as family history of arthritis, and he concluded that he was 73 percent certain that the person suffers from Lyme disease.
Although these kinds of machines will not replace doctors anytime soon, it is quite possible that computers like Watson could be in every hospital to be a key assistant to doctors during surgery and treatments.
iHealthBeat notes that IBM is about two years away from marketing a medical Watson product and although there is no set price, some feel the machine could be worth $2 million for each hospital.
This latest story comes as Bloomberg News reported last week that IBM is planning to invest $100 million over the course of the next two to three years to further enhance technology similar to Watson.
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