Saturday, 3 November 2012

The AI Lab: Watson, IBM's Supercomputer Genius, Could Be Your New Doctor!

Alfred Omachar

Watson, widely remembered for making headlines last year as the first ever cognitive system to win the TV quiz show Jeopardy!, is now training to get a new job as a doctor. As recently announced by IBM, Watson is now going to be an advisor and an assistant to all kinds of professional decision-makers, starting with healthcare, then moving on to other areas such as finance. The company together with the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC), plans to use the system for cancer research and treatment. Using clinical knowledge based on genomic and molecular data from MSKCC, Watson will help oncologists diagnose and treat individual cancer patients. Generally computers should also be able to help, but the limitations of current systems, for instance, in dealing with natural language, have prevented real advances. 

So what is it that actually makes Watson different from other intelligent systems?

A combination of three modern computing techniques makes Watson's smart learning software unique:

1. Natural language processing – to help in comprehending unstructured data

2. Hypothesis generation and evaluation – providing a list of responses based on relevant evidence

3. Evidence-based learning – improving its performance based on its outcomes so as to make it smarter with each interaction.

These capabilities enabled it to perform well on the Jeopardy! show which mainly depends on the ability to find out double meanings of words, puns, rhymes and hints as well as the ability to process large amounts of information to make complex logical connections. Check out the video below for more information.

It's more than Just Game Shows
Despite the fact that Watson addressed its first task of winning on Jeopardy!, IBM wants it to be more than just a professional game show contestant. But how exactly would Watson help out in healthcare?

  • First, the doctor poses a question to the system, providing it with symptoms of an illness. Watson then mines personal data from the patient and his/her medical records.
  •  It combines this information with findings from medical research and then examines all data sources to form hypotheses and tests them.
  • Watson then lists potential diagnoses along with a level of confidence for each of these diagnosis thus helping the doctor making a more informed decision.

A Promising Technology for Cancer Treatment?
Without any doubt, good doctors are notable for their ability to detect patterns and apply relevant medical knowledge to their patients. However, no physician can keep up with the amount of medical information available, which in fact is doubling every year and is all unstructured. Watson has the ability to mine a wide array of clinical data and medical cases that is accessible electronically, uncover patterns from these data and offer evidence to treatment decisions more firmly. IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering (MSKCC) do hope that their collaborative effort to adapt Watson into cancer research and treatment will produce notable results. Not only is Watson expected to improve the cancer diagnosis process, but it is also likely that in the future it will become part of a doctor's common tools such as a stethoscope or a blood pressure monitor.

Curious about Watson's Intelligence? Take a look at Watson as it competes against Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, two of Jeopardy!'s most successful contestants.