IBM’s Watson Goes to Medical School

WatsonIBM’s Watson is not only smart enough to win at Jeopardy, it’s got what it takes to be a valuable expert resource for physicians responsible for making complex healthcare decisions. According to a recent article in Robotics Trends entitled The Robot Will See You Now, the IBM Watson team has demonstrated how Watson can utilize the same skills it employed for its Jeopardy win, to now aid doctors in diagnosing illnesses and recommending treatments. These breakthroughs in the area of cognitive computing are providing humans with a new partner for helping with complex knowledge processing tasks.

Watson has enormous processing power. According to sources, Watson is capable of processing the equivalent of a million books per seconds. Combine Watson’s processing horsepower with its language processing and question analyzing and answering skills, and it can search through data and make associations far more quickly than a human can. According to the Robotics Trends article, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, a top institution in the area of cancer research and treatment, is working with IBM to teach Watson the latest information from medical research, symptom analysis, and treatment options. Medical documentation from hundreds of sources is growing exponentially. All of the data is valuable, but a human physician has no way of keeping up with the deluge of information.

That’s where Watson comes in. With its tireless ability to ingest unstructured data and understand relationships and trends within the information,  Watson can sort through whole libraries in seconds and recommend possible matches between symptoms, diagnoses, and treatments. Watson also has the ability to learn, which means that its understanding of medical literature and real life medical cases is constantly expanding. And though none of the articles discuss this point, Watson is not subject to unconscious human bias and anchoring, which can cause physicians to make a diagnosis based on only one or two symptoms, while ignoring other possibly important inputs.

An InformationWeek article provides a more in-depth look at how Memorial Sloan-Kettering is working with Watson.

In an upcoming post, I’ll write  about the technology behind Watson that’s an offshoot of IBM’s DeepQA and the Open Advancement of Question Answering (OAQA) Initiative.  


Physicians See Promise in Virtual Assistants

Doctors and IVAsA recently published survey sponsored by Nuance Communications revealed that a majority of physicians believe virtual assistant technologies will lead to positive changes in the healthcare industry within the next five years. Many doctors think that virtual agents capable of speech recognition will improve the way they access data and update medical records. The survey also shows that doctors believe mobile virtual assistants can help patients monitor their health and even modify their behaviors to support them in reaching their health goals.

This infographic on Healthcare IT News shows how survey respondents predict the influence of virtual assistant technologies on healthcare of the future.

Note that Nuance Communications is the maker of Dragon desktop dictation solutions. It will be interesting to watch for new technologies from Nuance, and other virtual agent providers, to see how intelligent virtual agents can deliver on the promise of improvements for healthcare providers and the patients they serve.