Monday, February 6, 2017

Dr. Watson Will See You Now

Some of you may remember that in 2011 a computer called Watson took on the two greatest Jeopardy champions of all time, Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.  Watson's total over the two-day competition ($77,147) was more than 3 times higher than the nearest human competitor.  This impressive victory demonstrated that a computer could handle complex decision-making effectively and quickly, in fact, better than the most skilled human.  I started to wonder what Watson was up to these days and after a little digging, I discovered that Jeopardy was only the beginning.
   Today Watson is engaged in hundreds of projects stretching across numerous fields of endeavor, including Commerce, Education, Supply Chain, Marketing, and Health Care.  A discussion of these focus areas is beyond the scope of this blog, but can be found on the IBM website.    However, as an example of Watson's capabilities, let's take a look at how Watson is being used in Oncology.  
   In preparation for its work in Oncology, Watson read more than 500 medical journals and textbooks and assimilated over 12 million pages of text.  Watson is able to gather all relevant information about a patient, including medical records, lab tests, and imaging data. The program can even interpret unstructured data such as handwritten physician notes.  The field of Oncology is expanding rapidly, and it is physically impossible for a physician to read and retain all of the available information.   In contrast, Watson remembers everything.  After studying a patient's records, Watson is able to call upon its vast store of Oncology knowledge and generate a personalized treatment recommendation.  In fact, a recent study of more than 600 breast cancer patients demonstrated that Watson's treatment recommendation agreed with a panel of Oncologists 90% of the time. For this reason, major cancer centers such as Memorial Sloan Kettering have embraced Watson as a valuable healthcare resource (see video below).   So the next time you see a doctor, don't be surprised if they consult a computer for a second opinion.

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