Fresh from a victory against two of Jeopardy!’s all-time winning contestants on Feb. 16, the IBM super computer named Watson is transitioning to a “job” in health care.
In a Feb. 17 press release, IBM announced that it has partnered with Nuance Communications, Inc., to develop and commercialize Watson’s advanced analytics to the health care industry. The effort combines Watson’s deep question answering, natural language processing and machine learning capabilities with Nuance’s speech-recognition and clinical language-understanding software.
According to the press release, the end product could assist physicians considering a patient’s diagnosis by rapidly scanning “all the related texts, reference materials, prior cases, and latest knowledge in journals and medical literature to gain evidence from many more potential sources than previously possible. This could help medical professionals confidently determine the most likely diagnosis and treatment options.”
Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine are assisting with the effort. “Watson has the potential to help doctors reduce the time needed to evaluate and determine the correct diagnosis for a patient,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, professor of clinical medicine at Columbia. “We also believe that Watson also has the ability to help doctors provide personalized treatment options that are tailored to an individual patient’s needs.”
A commercial product based on the effort could be available in 18-24 months.
I’m no computer expert, but it’s a safe bet that the beta-testing phase will contain some flaws. I can envision some of them:
Physician to Watson: I’m viewing a crusty surface that’s brittle to the touch, and sticky. It has a sweet aroma. What’s your diagnosis?
Watson: A three-day-old glazed doughnut.
Physician to Watson: My otoscopic evaluation of the ear canal of an 86-year-old male reveals a substance with horizontal hay-like fibers and vertical stick-like figures. What’s your diagnosis?
Watson: A Nativity scene from Michael’s.
First-year medical student to Watson: What does the abbreviation OCD stand for?
Watson: Wash your hands and wipe down my mainframe with a sanitized cloth first. Then I’ll tell you.
— Doug Brunk (on Twitter@dougbrunk)