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Surprising Science

Supercomputer and Jeopardy! Champion, Watson Embarks on a New Career in Medicine

By uploading medical journals, clinical guidelines and patient records into Watson's "brain," physicians are working closely with IBM to usher in the next generation of computer-assisted medicine. 

What’s the Latest Development?

Watson, the IBM supercomputer famous for easily defeating its human competitors in the televised quiz show Jeopardy!, is set to enter the medical profession. Using its ability to analyze natural language, which allowed it to grasp the meaning of trivia questions, Watson will draw on information from medical journals, clinical guidelines and patient records to help doctors diagnose diseases more quickly and accurately. “The result will be a system that its creators say can suggest nuanced treatment plans that take into account factors like drug interactions and a patient’s medical history.”

What’s the Big Idea?

Over the last few months, doctors working closely with IBM have been filling Watson’s “brain” with medical data. The supercomputer’s ability to analyze that data should prove especially useful to oncologists, who struggle to keep up with genomic and molecular data generated about different types of cancer. Beginning next year, Watson will also be used to approve patient treatments more quickly by using patient records and clinical guidelines to determine if a prescribed treatment is in line with hospital policy. While treatment approval can take nurses days to complete, Watson can return a decision in matter of minutes. 

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


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