IBM’s Watson is Going to Med School

IBM’s Watson may have trounced former champion Ken Jennings in Jeopardy, but now it’s facing an even bigger challenge: proving that it can make money for its creators.

It’s well on the way. Last week, IBM said that it was working with Citi to “explore how the Watson technology could help improve and simplify the banking experience,” but for the past six months, Big Blue has also teamed up with health insurer WellPoint to turn Watson into a machine that can support the doctors of the world.

IBM isn’t saying too much about what Watson will be doing at Citi. The two companies plan to build “the first consumer banking applications” for the supercomputer. WellPoint is a bit more forthcoming. In December, the health insurer said that it was working with Cedars-Sinai Hospital’s Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute to help physicians treat cancer patients.

That kind of context is hard to get nowadays using internet sources. Last summer, when Gondek was exploring the idea of using Watson for medical diagnoses, he ran into a San Diego doctor at a health conference in California. “He said nowadays when he is dealing with patients, he spends the first 10 minutes talking to them about all the diagnoses they found by doing searches,” he says. “It’s just human nature. They will focus in on the most severe or life-threatening one. They will have a few mild systems and will decide that they have some horrible cancer. And so he has to talk them down.”

Gondek’s dream is that Watson could somehow help doctors and patients get a better context on their healthcare — and help financial service customers get the same kind of weighted context on their investments. “What if something like Watson could get you more involved with your health?”

Emergency Medicine Resident Physician Iltifat Husain believes that Watson could never replace a doctor, but he says that it could be turned into a useful medical triage system, where patients tell Watson their symptoms and it figures out whether they need to come into the hospital for treatment.

There’s a lot that Watson isn’t going to be able to do, no matter how hard it crams, says Husain, who works at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He’s taking about the very human act of getting a read on a patient: How does their voice change when describing symptoms? How do they sit? What do their eyes say? “One of the first things I learned about medicine once I actually started practicing as a physician was medical texts only provide you with 50 percent of the education you need,” he says. “The rest you learn on the job.”

WellPoint says its medical learning application is still a year away. In the meantime, Gondek and the IBM researchers are putting Watson through its own machine learning bootcamp.

“It’s a little like sending Watson to medical school. We don’t just push a button and instantly Watson can offer medical advice,” Gondek says. “We need experts to show us what’s important in the domain. We need experts to come up with test scenarios that Watson can learn from.”

Via http://www.wired.com/wiredenterprise/2012/03/ibm-watson/

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About Jeff M. Fischbach

http://www.twitter.com/FischTech Jeff Michael Fischbach is founder and President of SecondWave Information Systems (SecondWave.com), a consulting firm specializing in Forensic Technology. Since 1994, he has served as a board member and technology adviser to numerous professional organizations and corporations. Mr. Fischbach has been engaged as a litigation consultant and Forensic Examiner, offering expert advice and oversight on matters involving intellectual property, computers, information systems, satellite, tracking and wireless communications technologies. He has advised law enforcement, foreign government representatives, judges, lawyers and the press.
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