All Access Weekly Exclusive: IBM’s Watson Fights Cancer

March 22, 2012

Hey! Katie Linendoll here for All Access Weekly. Last year, I had a chance to challenge IBM's Watson in a full game of Jeopardy. Afterwards, as he kindly downplayed my cataclysmic thrashing, lead researcher Dr. David Ferrucci ensured me that their super-bot was much more than game show gimmick.

One of the potential applications, he said, would be in the world of healthcare.

Announced today, Watson's got a new gig on the forefront: fighting Cancer. And, needless to say, his help is much-needed. One in every four people runs the risk of contracting the disease at some point in their lives. This year alone, 1.6 million will be diagnosed. And there's no cure in sight.

That being said, Watson will head to New York's Memorial-Sloan Kettering Hospital. Once there, he'll be utilized to help simplify available data on the disease and categorize treatment plans. Among other things, this will make it so that no matter where you live, your doctor will always have access to up-to-date information on the most effective treatment options.

How does he do it?

For starters, Watson's fast. Really fast. He can make billions of computations per second. He can also take huge volumes of data and parse out critical key points. Scientists around the world have amassed an immense volume of sheer data, but keeping it updated and accessible has been difficult.

Now that they have Watson's help with that, patients eventually may not have to travel to distant states for medical help. The data will be in one centralized location, which could save precious time for anyone who needs to start treatment immediately.

A team of 25 researchers began working on Watson in 2007, feeding him torrents of information, from complete dictionary libraries to Bibles to stats. Regarding his appearance, I asked Dr. Ferrucci why Watson didn't look more like a traditional robot. It would've made him "too real", he said. Dr. Ferrucci also mentioned that no matter how intelligent the bot, it would always need the help and compassion of an actual person to operate in the medical realm.

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Source: IBM