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Watson’s Health Care Potential On Display

By Andrew Gray, posted May 9, 2014
Watson, the IBM computer system first made famous by its success on the game show Jeopardy, recently appeared in Wilmington to demonstrate its ability to help doctors better process health care information.  

On Jeopardy, the software used artificial intelligence to beat Jeopardy champion Ken Jennings, but now the computer power is being used to help doctors better understand oncology research and clinical trial management. 
The May 1 event was hosted by N.C. Coast Clinical Research Initiative and held at the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. It featured Mike Orr, manager of the IBM Watson University, and Eric Woods, tech
lead for Watson Solutions and master inventor for IBM.   

“It is software. And the technology is the ability to create an expert of some kind,” Orr said in an interview before to the event.

The software analyzes all of the available documentation and then
is trained with sets of questions, Orr said.

“You train Watson, much like you have to train a human. We start using question-and-answer pairs. We create a ground truth,” Orr said.

Once Watson is trained, it is then able to provide the user with an answer and a probability that the answer is correct. 
For oncology research, the result is which clinical trial would be best for the patient symptoms. 

“It can go through thousands of clinical trial descriptions and find one that is appropriate,” Orr said.

A patient’s condition can be inputted, with Watson returning the treatment based on all previous treatments. Orr stressed that the goal was not to replace the doctors, only to help them process a volume of reports.

“The key is that Watson is an adviser,” Orr said. “Watson can absorb and maintain all the reports.”

He said there were an unlimited number of applications from medical and financial data to customer service applications. Each version of the Watson software is trained for a specific use based on the customer’s data that is imported.  

Outdoor product company The North Face, for example, is using the technology to help customers pick the correct equipment for a trip. 
Watson did not have to travel to Wilmington for the event as the system is available via the Internet as part of IBM’s cloud services.  

Watson is not a supercomputer in a traditional sense of being one giant computer but rather is a collection of servers running specialize software, Orr said.

He also said that IBM is looking for more uses, and company officials are encouraging people to submit their ideas to potentially gain access to the technology.  

For more information, go to www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/ibmwatson.

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