Healthcare Technology Featured Article

February 13, 2013

IBM Finds Niche for Smaller Watson Supercomputer in Healthcare

When you think "Doctor Watson," Sherlock Holmes may come to mind. IBM is about to sponsor another kind of Doctor Watson, however: a version of its Watson supercomputer adapted to help make medical decisions.

IBM has reportedly entered into a partnership with Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint to bring Watson’s expertise to the medical field, the website Extreme Tech is reporting this week. Physicians will be able to use the computer to run variables and hear suggestions on possible treatments based on giant blocks of medical data.

 In essence, the computer can become one member of a team of physicians and researchers.

Watson is an IBM-developed artificial intelligence computer capable of answering questions posed in natural language. It was developed in IBM's DeepQA project and named after IBM's first president, Thomas J. Watson (alas, not for Sherlock Holmes’ trusty sidekick). The machine was specifically developed to answer questions to compete on the popular game show, Jeopardy!

In 2011, Watson competed on Jeopardy! against former winners Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings, and trounced both of them, taking “home” the first prize of $1 million.

IBM hopes to develop a version of Watson that is small enough to be easily portable and allows hospitals to either buy or rent the supercomputer. The “portable” part may be the trickiest prospect.

The original Watson that competed on Jeopardy! consisted of 90 IBM Power 750 servers on 10 full racks. Essentially, it took up about as much space as a large bedroom would provide, according to Extreme Tech. The new, portable Watson, says IBM, would be about the same size as a pizza box.

IBM has been reportedly been looking for suitable markets to sell Watson into, according to a recent article in Forbes.

“Even before the Jeopardy! success, IBM began to hatch bigger plans for Watson and there are few areas more in need of supercharged decision-support than health care,” wrote Forbes’ Bruce Upbin.  “Doctors and nurses are drowning in information with new research, genetic data, treatments and procedures popping up daily.”

Pricing for the new hospital version of Watson has not been disclosed.

Edited by Braden Becker

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