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IBM’s Watson Being Trained For Medical Service

May 22, 2011

A doctor is now helping IBM’s Watson computer system to learn to work as a medical tool.

The computer is best known for defeating the world’s best “Jeopardy!” opponents on TV earlier this year. 

IBM said Watson has the ability to understand plain language, can digest questions about a person’s symptoms and medical history, as well as quickly suggest diagnoses and treatments.

IBM said Watson is still a couple years away from taking on the medical field.

The company said it envisions Watson having several uses, including a doctor simply speaking into a handheld device to get answers at a patient’s bedside.

Watson was given encyclopedias, books, news, and movie scripts for “Jeopardy!”.  It is now being fed medial textbooks and journals, and could also link to electronic health records.

Dr. Herbert Chase, a Columbia University medical school professor, said anecdotal information like personal blogs from medical websites may also be included.

“What people say about their treatment … it’s not to be ignored just because it’s anecdotal,” Chase told The Associated Press (AP). “We certainly listen when our patients talk to us, and that’s anecdotal.”

A demonstration with the AP showed how Watson’s diagnosis evolved as the computer was given more information about a patient.

When Watson was told a patient was pregnant, it altered its treatment suggestion.

The computer, which is named after IBM’s former president Thomas Watson, is housed in two units.  Each unit contains five racks and each rack has 10 IBM Power 750 servers.

When the servers are linked up they are equivalent to 2,800 computers with a memory of 15 trillion bytes.

IBM has been developing the machine for almost four years.

The company spent about $6 billion a year on research and development of Watson.

Image Caption: Watson, powered by IBM POWER7, is a work-load optimized system that can answer questions posed in natural language over a nearly unlimited range of knowledge. Credit: IBM

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