IBM’s Jeopardy-winning computer is delving into medicine

IBM’s Watson supercomputer beat the two world champions in the intellectual game of Jeopardy in January, and now the company plans to extend its artificial intelligence and language abilities to the task of medical diagnoses and treatment. USA Today covered the announcement and its potential.

IBM plans to extend Watson into Healthcare and other industries

With the increasing pace of medical advancements, keeping up is a challenge, and a Watson-like assistant can help minimize human error by presenting alternative diagnosis and prioritizing them. Doctors may soon be able to connect to Watson’s database by speaking into a hand-held device, using speech-recognition technology and cloud computing. Watson will then tap its repository for the most advanced research in cancer or other fields to provide an opinion, or second opinion.

That’s just the beginning, in my opinion. IBM’s artificial intelligence accomplishments have implications as we extend Moore’s Law out 50 years. Consider that Google today only searches and finds information. It doesn’t interpret it or turn it into insightful answers. It’s not self-aware. But futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts an exponential increase in technical innovation:

  • By 2013, a supercomputer will have the reasoning and processing capacity of the Human Brain.
  • By 2023, a $1,000 home computer will have the power of the human brain.
  • By 2037, a $0.01 embedded computer will have the power of the human brain.
  • By 2049, a $1,000 computer will have the power of the human Race.
  • By 2059, a $0.01 computer will have the power of the human Race.

Think about the home healthcare possibilities of a Watson-like supercomputer that individuals can tap into remotely in 3 or 4 years or the supercomputer you can buy for yourself in 12 years. That’s easily within my lifetime as a 63 year old, and if I live until my new granddaughter gets married, I may see the power of a human brain embedded into everyday objects to help me live well even longer.

Computers working together on big problems over ultra-fast fiber networks is part of the vision of cloud-based accessibility that I submitted to the FCC (see: Lifted by the Cloud). So is computers embedded into everyday objects and tied into networks supporting learning agents and truly smart homes.

Update: 9/12/11 ABC News report says Wellpoint Insurance to use Watson to Cure Sick

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