Last month, IBM’s Watson took down a pair of Jeopardy! champions, and now it’s on to bigger and better things. A team of Columbia University doctors led by Dr. Herbert Chase have been working with IBM to adapt Watson’s algorithms for diagnosing medical conditions. The researchers have been providing the computer with a list of symptoms, and have been assessing its ability to provide a diagnosis. While Watson could only mine its own hard drives for answers on Jeopardy!, there are no rules against using the internet in a clinical setting, so Watson will be able to search newly published research and even blogs (like Medgadget!) when coming to a diagnosis.
From Columbia University’s The Record:
Chase believes Watson’s greatest potential is in the area of personalized medicine. Since two patients with the same diagnosis won’t respond identically to the same treatment, every patient’s care needs to be, in effect, custom-designed. With its ability to process vast amount of data, Watson might be able to suggest tailor-made treatment options by factoring in a patient’s medical history.
But Watson is unlikely to replace a doctor anytime soon. “The computer is never going to be able to read the signals that the patient is emoting, like ‘I don’t really want to do that’ or ‘I’m a little afraid of that,’” Chase says. Watson still has to go through a series of tests to assess how comfortable patients are with seeing their doctor speak to a computer during an exam. It’s possible that Watson will play a largely behind-the-scenes role, receiving dictation and answering the doctor’s questions about diagnoses and treatment options after the patient has left.
The Record’s Coverage: Columbia Doctors Test Watson Computer’s Ability to Help Diagnose Illness
Flashback: IBM Watson Could Revolutionize Healthcare
(Hat tip: Engadget)