Thursday, February 17, 2011

After Jeopardy what's next for IBM's Watson? Bring about a Healthcare Revolution as "Dr. Watson"?

Not as far-fetched as it sounds. After pummeling previous Jeopardy Super Stars Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter into submission over the last few nights on Jeopardy (with Ken signing off his final answer with " “I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords”), IBM's Watson may take on a new Avatar as a Physician's Assistant (from MobiHealthNews)::

“For IBM, the future will happen very quickly, company executives” told the Times. “[Today] it plans to announce that it will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.”
Nuance, of course, offers the very popular Dragon voice recognition software for healthcare providers and others. Imagining a voice-enabled “physician assistant service” that taps into Watson and available as a smartphone app is not at all difficult. A desktop version of the service would be substantially less useful.
“I have been in medical education for 40 years and we’re still a very memory-based curriculum,” Dr. Herbert Chase, a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University who is working with IBM on the physician’s assistant told the New York Times. “The power of Watson-like tools will cause us to reconsider what it is we want students to do.”
For those who are not Jeopardy Buffs, Watson is a new super computer from IBM that prove itself more than capable of besting and replacing today’s top Jeopardy! players. In a television spectacle reminiscent of the super computer Deep Blue’s win over chess world champion Gary Kasparov in 1997, a room-sized computer developed by IBM managed to beat out a pair of Jeopardy! all-stars over the course of a three night game this week. Watson, ended the run with $77,147 compared to Ken Jennings’ $24,000 and Brad Rutter’s $21,600.

The match included a medical related question — no, a diagnosis question really: “You just need a nap. You don’t have this sleep disorder that can make sufferers nod off while standing up.” Watson beat out the humans with the answer: “What is narcolepsy?” Maybe you don’t need an M.D. for that one, but still the computer got there first.

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