IBM’s Watson moves to health care after conquering Jeopardy

There’s no rest for the weary cyberbrain. IBM’s Watson supercomputer, which soundly trounced its human competitors after a three-night Jeopardy competition, will be bringing its talents to the health care industry, thanks to a new research partnership announced today with Nuance Communications.

Best known for its Dragon Natural Speaking speech recognition software, Nuance also focuses heavily on the health care industry. Its Clinical Language Understand technology provides doctors with speech recognition technology that can understand complex medical jargon. That technology will be combined with Watson’s deep question answering, natural language processing and machine learning capabilities, as part of the research agreement.

It’s not difficult to imagine what the combination of Nuance’s technology and Watson’s analytical computing system can provide. It could help doctors diagnose patients instantly, just as it can sift through its massive database to answer obscure Jeopardy questions. And it will continually get better, since Watson can learn from its mistakes. The combined Watson and Nuance project won’t replace actual doctors, instead it will augment their ability to treat patients and help to erase human error that can cost lives.

Products resulting from the IBM and Nuance partnership are expected to hit the market within two years. Researchers from the Columbia University Medical Center and the University of Maryland School of Medicine will also be participating.

IBM mentioned that health care diagnosis was one of the potential uses of Watson’s capabilities when we first covered it last month. Now that it looks like Watson is well on its way to helping doctors, we may also see the technology licensed for other uses, like tech support or enterprise knowledge management. IBM wouldn’t say at the time if it was talking to government agencies, but it’s not difficult to see how Watson could be used to help analysts at agencies like the CIA sift through vast amounts of data.

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  1. [...] tool for the healthcare industry, especially when it comes to making diagnoses. (The company also formed a research partnership with Nuance last year to help prepare Watson for health care purposes.) Going mobile would further Watson’s [...]