IBM’s Jeopardy playing computer, Watson -- a new generation of AI meets the public

After its Jeopardy! fame fades, Watson is going to get down to serious work. The IBM team led by computer scientist  Dave Ferrucci is already deploying Watson in health care. The same way IBM fed Watson Wikipedia, the Bible, a geospatial database–the equivalent of a million pages of documents–it has begun to feed Watson electronic medical records, doctors’ notes, patient histories, symptoms, the USP Pharmacopeia. Here’s the amazing thing: The machine is getting faster at learning. Teaching it to play Jeopardy at a championship level took four years. Teaching it to deliver reasonably accurate answers to diagnostic questions took only four months. I can see IBM selling Watson as a Web-delivered service to doctors and hospitals seeking answers to a patient presenting with problems. Watson considers everything and creates evidence profiles (the types of information it relies on, weighted based on their reliability and utility) that feed into diagnoses graded on varying levels of confidence.  These can be offered up as charts on an iPad  showing a doctor Watson’s thought process. It’s like peering into the mind of a House, M.D. The doctors make the final call but they can assess possibilites they may not have seen and can click right to source material used to compile Watson’s answers. This is powerful stuff.