IBM's Watson supercomputer to help diagnose hospital patients

IBM’s Watson supercomputer — and champion of trivia game Jeopardy! — is headed to hospitals to help doctors quickly register a patient’s complaints and symptoms and diagnose problems.

That means a patient could walk into a hospital and tell the computer about what is bothering them — whether it’s leg pain or a cough or a sore throat — and Watson can quickly process that information and spit out a diagnosis that has the highest probability of being correct. For most cases, that would save hospitals a lot of time because the computer could plow through the large number of cases hospitals regularly contend with that require simple treatments.

Watson was able to diagnose an eye problem with a fictional victim that had a 73 percent chance of being correct, according to a report by the Associated Press. Watson was able to improve the chance that its diagnosis was correct as it was given more symptoms and more clues about the patient’s condition and eventually arrived at a diagnosis of Lyme disease. Watson can also pull information from blogs and other media sources to create a more accurate diagnosis.

Watson is best known for crushing the puny likes of Jeopardy! champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in a series of games. It’s an advanced supercomputer that does a very good job of understanding human language and searching for correct answers. But the supercomputer was no match for former physicist and New Jersey congressman Rush Holt, who beat the computer by edging it out in a few areas that required clever use of language and rhymes like “Hoover’s Maneuvers.”

At its core, Watson is a computer that uses a series of complex search algorithms and some heavy-duty processing firepower to determine an answer that has the highest probability of being correct. But while it has a good bit of “buzzer mojo” that contributed to its wins over Jeopardy! champions Jennings and Rutter, it still hasn’t cracked the code for perfect natural language processing — something that comes easily to humans but can be incredibly difficult for computers.

IBM said it would be at least two years before the supercomputer made it to hospitals as an official product and said it didn’t have any kind of price tags for hospitals just yet.

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