Now that Watson has settled down in its victory over the top human Jeopardy champions, its creators are finally making that transition they said they intended to do–over to medicine. Watson’s new occupation? Medical student.
Except instead of going through a million years of medical school, like a human does, Watson is going to spend just the next two years absorbing more than 6 million medical textbooks and 70 million journal articles. After that, IBM is going to get Watson a job as a clinical decision support system (CDSS), where it will help doctors diagnose diseases and make medical decisions.
The software powering Watson is called DeepQA, and that software is what’s getting repurposed to be a CDSS, and will be sold to medical facilities. We explained a bit about how Watson and DeepQA work in this article. What it boils down to is that DeepQA has a lot of complex algorithms for interpreting language for meaning, rather than simply working with arrays of data like a normal computer. The advantage is that it gives DeepQA the ability to, pretty much literally, read textbooks and learn from them. It doesn’t take a human to say something like Sore Throat + Sniffles = Cold; Watson can figure it out just by reading.
What’s cooler is that, like some medical TV shows, Watson can deal with medical mysteries and form a hypothesis. Here’s a quote from an Associated Press article:
“At a recent demonstration for The Associated Press, Watson was gradually given information about a fictional patient with an eye problem. As more clues were unveiled — blurred vision, family history of arthritis, Connecticut residence — Watson’s suggested diagnoses evolved from Uveitis to Behcet’s disease to Lyme disease. It gave the final diagnosis a 73 percent confidence rating.
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