December 27, 2011

IBM creates a doctor’s Watson

Doctors should be cracking difficult diagnoses with the help of a Watson in their hand.

This one is not about Sherlock Holmes' dear doctor-pal, but IBM's upcoming supercomputer.

Named after Big Blue's founder, Thomas Watson, the machine has been built to process complex language nuances, and later speech, almost like we do.

In three seconds flat, it can tell the doctor the nearest, if not the exact, disease the patient has, said Dr Manish Gupta, Director IBM Research-India and Chief Technologist, IBM India South Asia.

Watson, Dr Gupta recently told Business Line, can search the equivalent of a million books or about 200 million pages of medical literature. It uses IBM's fastest tools and is not connected to the Internet.

If doctors tried to clear their doubts on the Web, it would take time and not yield a conclusive answer; much of medical literature is not on the Web, Dr Gupta reasoned. Watson would show similar cases; suggest treatment; or alert about side-effects of a prescribed medicine.

In the US, IBM has picked partners to commercialise Watson. Dr Gupta said the system should be available worldwide in a year or two.

One model was to offer it to hospitals on cloud. The doctor can tap Watson on a smart phone or a laptop. Other user industries could be customer care, stock exchanges and banks.

While IBM chose the healthcare industry as the first user, Watson would not jeopardise medical jobs.

Dr Gupta emphasised, “We are not at all talking about replacing the doctor.”

Nor would it increase the patient's spend as records would be available across the healthcare chain and reduce repeat-tests.

The first challenge was to increase the use of electronic health records.

Supercomputers have been used by the military, advanced scientific institutions, for weather modelling and drug discovery.

In February, IBM entered Watson into a popular and challenging US quiz show, Jeopardy – which it won over two human champions. And like humans, Dr Gupta said, it also erred on some answers.

Link: Original Article

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