Remember IBM’s Watson? He’s Still Here.

The celeb computer is branching out from game shows to medical and financial analysis


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As Mrs. Yamodo sits in the waiting room, her new doctor heads to his office to familiarize himself with her case. The oncologist has only a few minutes between appointments. He logs into the electronic medical-records system and clicks on the “Ask Watson” button at the bottom left of his screen.

Watson, who already has been fed the results of Mrs. Yamodo’s medical tests, evaluates all of the information in the electronic medical records and analyzes it against tens of thousands of documents in its vast knowledge base—like medical journals, textbooks, clinical trials, industry association guidelines, specific hospital best practices—and then identifies the pertinent facts for the case. 

Watson then recommends several treatment options, based not only on all the data it has just digested, but also on an individual’s genes, medical history, and demographic profile. If the doctor wonders why Watson is recommending a further test or a particular combination of drugs, he can press on the “evidence” button. The computer will drill down to the specific text, even the paragraph, to show what’s behind its decision-making.

Watson is not yet working in real time with live patients, but it is running scenarios with real (anonymous) patient data. It will be piloted at two hospitals in the Northeast region later this year. Meanwhile, researchers at IBM are working with the Cleveland Clinic on what it calls WatsonPaths, another evidence-based medical solution in which Watson is learning to help train medical students. 

Fans who followed Watson’s performance on Jeopardy! know that the more it played the game, the better it got. The same holds for Watson’s medical skills. The more the computer works with actual cases, and the more information it’s fed, the better it gets at diagnosis and recommended treatments. And, as on the show, Watson can convey its confidence level and why it recommends one treatment over another. 

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