IBM’s Watson Supercomputer Tries to Focus Now on Health Care

International Business Machine Corp.’s Watson supercomputer is up to a new challenge, and that is health care, after defeating Jeopardy!’s best and brightest.

A research agreement has been reached by IBM with Nuance Communications Inc. (NUAN), who is a provider of speech-recognition technology, to “explore, develop and commercialize” the Watson computing system’s advanced analytics capabilities in the health-care industry.

Universities like Columbia University Medical Center and University of Maryland School of Medicine would help in the provision of their medical expertise and research.

Empowered by 90 servers and 360 supercomputer chips, Watson was built four years ago by a group of IBM researchers who are trying to develop a machine that would swiftly answer complex questions including puns and wordplay.

Former ‘Jeopardy!’ champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter have been contended by the room-sized system for three nights this week.  Watson finally won on Wednesday with a score of $77, 147. Jennings ended up with $24, 000 and Rutter had $21, 600.  This means a $ 1 million-prize for Watson, which will be donated by the IBM to a charity.  Having plans to donate half of their prizes to charities, Jennings won $300,000 while Rutter got $200, 000.

IBM Watson Supercomputer on Health Care

IBM is now working to engage the system to business uses, like helping physicians and nurses look for answers in huge volumes of information.  For instance, Watson’s analytics technology could be used by a doctor together with Nuance’s voice and clinical language understanding offerings to swiftly mull over all the related texts, reference materials, prior cases and latest knowledge in medical journals obtain information from more probable sources, and thus making the doctor more confident in the patient’s diagnosis.

IBM and Nuance’s first commercial offerings are expected to be available in 18 to 24 months.

One of the IBM researchers working on business applications for Watson is Katharine Frase who said IBM is now trying to look at possibilities where Watson will be expanded to other uses like call centers, knowledge management and training of new employees in technical fields, financial sector applications and law, although she said she’s not yet sure if a business model will support the law application.

Frase said, “First, we figure out the characteristics of uses that need the technology.  Then we figure out a business model, how we deliver the service and who’s the customer…Not every business problem needs Watson.”

Some clients are also calling IBM asking if Watson can help them with their concerns.

Frase said they would start with the medical realm now and try to study progress.

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