Watson: Out of Jeopardy and Into Medical School
IBM’s Wiz Brain Supercomputer Comes of Age to Serve Patients.
Aficionados of Jeopardy will remember watching in awe as IBM’s Watson kicked the proverbial pants off the show’s best performing candidates. His margin of error was the lowest of any participant I had ever seen. Simply put, he is what educators would call a life long learner, but on steroids. Never having to sleep, and with more computing power than our limited brain cells could ever supply, his memory banks are continually combing the Internet and qualified databases for the latest information on just about any topic you can imagine. He then codifies it and processes into a wealth of reasoned data.
Move over Einstein… Some would argue that he is the brightest mind on the planet.
Now imagine taking the power of Watson and applying it to medical assessment, diagnosis and identifying treatment options. That is exactly what engineers at IBM are doing by sending their smartest son ever to medical school. What’s more, Watson will continue to rack up Continuing Education Units 24/7.
According to a recent article in Newsday, “IBM’s Watson may not be hanging up a shingle, but the supercomputer will help doctors at New York-based Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center evaluate patients’ lung cancer treatments.”
The story goes on to say that in the case of lung cancer, Watson absorbed data from 1,500 lung-cancer cases from Memorial Sloan-Kettering and more than 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals in preparing for his new role. Watson was designed to be able to interpret natural language, providing a bridge between the data-crunching power of a supercomputer and the needs of humans who need to analyze large amounts of data. The medical initiative is the first to use Watson in a professional setting, but IBM plans to roll out the supercomputer in a variety of industries that have to juggle complex data.
Prostate cancer will be one of the next medical specialties for Watson. Last September, PCF researchers attending the Celebration of Science Meeting in Washington, D.C. were introduced to Watson’s capabilities and were notably impressed.
“The combination of transformational technologies found in Watson with our cancer analytics and decision-making process has the potential to revolutionize the accessibility of information for the treatment of cancer in communities across the country and around the world,” commented Dr. Craig Thompson, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering.
Patients should not expect to someday walk up to a Watson station and withdraw medical advice and referrals to treatment as they currently do cash from an ATM. But, as scientific discovery accelerates and advances continue to be made, they can draw higher levels of confidence if their physicians are accessing Watson-generated information. Perhaps Watson’s biggest contributions will be to rural medicine, where practitioners don’t have daily access to major cancer centers and the vast amounts of information that reside there.
In any event, I believe that Watson will indeed revolutionize access to the latest medical thinking for both clinicians and their patients and will help improve outcomes for all.