Watson, Big Data, and Doctors

February 13, 2013 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

Who remembers in 2011 when IBM’s super-computer named Watson took on Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a match against the “brains” on Jeopardy? Watson, using practically the entire internet, was able to beat both contestants in an exhibition game. Months prior Watson was analyzing texts throughout the internet, including all of the text on Wikipedia, creating a database of knowledge of over four terabytes. According to Wikipedia, Watson is based on IBM’s DeepQA technology for “hypothesis generation, massive evidence gathering, analysis, and scoring”. You ask Watson a question and it goes through a step by step process to figure out its answer. It first analyzes the question, breaking it up into various parts that can be used to more easily search its database. It queries its candidate answer database to find its preliminary answers. Then it takes the answers and compares them against their evidence database so that it could back its answer up. Finally, it ranks its answers with the best evidence in order to determine which one it wants to return as its final answer. This process, combined with the amount of big data that Watson has analyzed and indexed, is how it was able to win the Jeopardy $1,000,000 first prize. Now after Jeopardy, IBM and Watson have been up to a lot of work. The two biggest improvements to Watson is that now it’s a lot smaller and has had a huge speed improvement. Before, Watson was so big it’d take up a small bedroom with all the equipment. Now Watson is has slimmed down and lost some weight so that it could fit into a regular sized server rack. Processing speed has also increased 240%, so now you can lose at Jeopardy against it just that much faster.

IBM has also been in contact with a number of other companies, mostly in the health field. Watson has been doing a lot of analysis of various medical materials and cancer treatments, among other things. Because of all the research that has been happening, Watsons first real job is going to be assisting medical professionals in the field. With the amount of knowledge stored in its database and with how fast it can be processed, Watson is going to be helping make tough medical decisions with the doctors and nurses. In the heat of the moment they can interface with Watson using an iPad, and it’ll help them make faster and smarter decisions. With IBM and health care professional WellPoint, it is planned to have Watson interfacing with 1,600 health care providers by end of 2013. Watson isn’t just going to be a cool question and answer machine to showcase on Jeopardy, it’s going to be helping out medical professionals all throughout the world making bigger and better decisions.


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