What is pneumonia? No, that’s not a question, but it could be an answer, if a university hospital in Cleveland Ohio starts using Jeopardy star supercomputer Watson to help train its medical staff.
The IBM machine is set to move on from pitting its wits against challengers on the game show to a healthier goal, in which it evaluates medical case scenarios and diagnoses submitted by young doctors and either affirms or rejects it to a high level of probability.
The move will also be IBM’s first big push into the medical sector, worth trillions of dollars a year. In 2010 alone, the U.S. spent over $2.6 trillion--approximately 17.6 percent of its GDP--on health care.
IBM claims around one in five medical diagnoses are currently either wrong or incomplete, with as many as 1.5 million medication errors made in the U.S. every year.
With its “understanding” of natural language, ability to trawl through masses of data and aptitude for putting information into context, Watson would seem to be an ideal fit for finding answers quickly, allowing for more rapid patient diagnosis and knowing which treatments would be most effective for individuals, based on their personal medical history.
The supercomputer has already been tested at a New York-based cancer center, as well as by a major health insurance provider in the U.S.
The machine is already purportedly scoring well on test questions being administered to it off the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which all human medical students are required to pass in order to become fully fledged physicians.
Having Watson replace human physicians is not the plan just yet, though, according to IBM’s scientists.
Instead, it’s hoped that Watson will be able to boost a real medical department’s ability to keep abreast of new research, cut down on misdiagnosis and improve treatment suggestions.
Brave new world… but will it make medical professionals lazy? And what about its bedside manner?