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From Jeopardy Champion to Dr. Watson?

Nailing down Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter was fairly easy for Watson, but the real challenge for IBM’s supercomputer is just about to start as it enters the critical world of medicine – acting as Dr. Watson in lab coat, or not yet. Its artificial intelligence, which will further be developed to suit the medical world, is the next reliable brain that medical professionals can consult before providing a patient with any kind of treatment.

On Thursday, February 17, IBM announced that Watson is taking on the medical world. Voice recognition firm Nuance Communications, Columbia Medical Center, the University of Maryland School of Medicine, and IBM will work together to release the product to the healthcare market in the coming 18 to 24 months. IBM and Nuance will work on the technology, and physicians will do the identification of critical issues in which Watson can assist.

Named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, the Watson supercomputer was programmed by 25 IBM scientists for 4 years, stored about a million books into the system, hence, considered the most intelligent computer to date. Its system is powered by 10 racks of IBM POWER 750 Linux running servers, uses 15 RAM terabytes, 2,880 processor cores, and operates at 80 teraflops. What’s that supposed to mean? It means Watson can handle 80 trillion operations per second.

Imagine having an intelligent machine at the bedside that gives precise answer in less than three seconds, after scanning all the 2 million pages stored in it. In the future, with the collaboration of IBM and Nuance, Watson will have the combined IBM Deep Question Answering, natural language processing, and machine learning with Nuance’s speech recognition and existing Clinical Language Understanding technologies. All these will be within the supercomputer Watson in providing what they call maximum assistance in the decision making. It will provide answers that physicians and nurses may not have considered in validating their ideas and hypotheses. Significantly, Watson will help make patient care less risky and much precise.

Although, medical professionals will soon have Watson at the bedside, the burden of final decision making is still placed upon their shoulders. The capability to make wise decisions neither comes with a lab coat nor with tons of fashion medical scrubs, but still from the collected intelligence gained through hard work and experience.

About Mecheil Lewis