Paging Dr. Watson! IBM Puts Its AI to Work in Healthcare

IBM’s artificial intelligence project, Watson, is really coming into his own.  The initiative, several years in the making, is being put to work as part of IBM’s Big Data portfolio, a monetizable solution instead of a research-driven hobby for Big Blue.  One of the most viable sectors for Watson is the healthcare industry, and that’s exactly where the AI is headed.  IBM and WellPoint announced a new Watson-based offering this morning, helping hospitals improve patient treatment quality by applying natural language processing to medical data.

The platform churns through research documents, genetic data and treatment records in order to supply doctors with relevant information on a patient-by-patient basis. WellPoint Chief medical officer Samuel Nussbaum says that this functionality can help healthcare pros make accurate treatment decisions 90 percent of the time, a huge leap forward from the 50 percent success rate that is achieved in hospitals today.

Watson is available to healthcare providers as a hosted service or an on-premise solution that can be deployed in a data center (no word on pricing yet). The latter option is made possible thanks to good old IBM ingenuity: in just a few years’ time, Big Blue’s engineers managed to reduce the bedroom-sized supercomputer to a slim server that can seamlessly plug into traditional IT environments .  This scaled-down box is 240 percent faster than the original Watson, according to the company.

Abhi-Shake Mehta, the founder of financial services startup Tresata, appeared on our morning NewsDesk show with Kristin Feledy to discuss the latest news from IBM (full clip below). The underlying data science that makes it all possible is one of the topics he covered in the 10-minute session.

“The diet of Watson is probably as exciting as the technology of Watson,” Mehta says. “[In recent years] IBM very aggressively ingested mounds and mounts of data across a variety of different verticals…it’s very interesting to see the datasets Watson has gone after and what other industry verticals it will approach.”

Watson made its entry to the healthcare industry in September last year, when IBM first announced its partnership with WellPoint. Cedars-Sinai’s cancer research unit started using the supercomputer to provide better treatment for patients in December.