Four years ago, Neil Mehta was among the 15 million people who watched Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter--the world's greatest "Jeopardy!" "Jeopardy!" is a television game show in which the host challenges contestants with answers for which they must then supply the questions--a task that involves some seriously complicated cognition. Artificial-intelligence experts described Watson's triumph as even more extraordinary than IBM supercomputer Deep Blue's history-making 1997 defeat of chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov. To an AI aficionado, Watson was a tour de force of language analysis and machine reasoning. To Mehta, a physician and professor at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, Watson was a question unto itself: What might be possible were Watson's powers turned to medicine?
Talking to WIRED before his speech at WIRED Health, Kyu Rhee, IBM's chief health officer, took from his pocket one of the iconic pieces of medical equipment: the stethoscope. The stethoscope is celebrating its 200th anniversary – the first, monaural version was created by the French doctor René Laennec. Despite technical advances – and the rise of other non-invasive techniques for internal examination – the stethoscope still means "doctor": according to a 2012 research paper, carrying a stethoscope makes a practitioner seem more trustworthy than any other piece of medical equipment. "It's amazing how medicine in some ways still leverages this piece of technology," said Rhee. "But I believe that in the next 200 years a cognitive system like Watson will be a part of every healthcare decision, for every stakeholder." IBM Watson's cognitive approach to computing absorbs data – structured and unstructured – and produces answers.
Disruption ahead: Deloitte's point of view on IBM Watson8 9. What makes Watson unique In technical terms, IBM Watson is an advanced open-domain question answering (QA) system with deep natural language processing (NLP) capabilities. At this point, the Watson Software as a Service (SaaS) platform is most effectively used to sift through massive amounts of text--documents, emails, social posts, and more--to answer questions in real time. Watson accepts questions posed by the user in natural language and provides the user with a response (or a set of responses) by generating and evaluating various hypotheses around different interpretations of the question and possible answers to it. Unlike keyword-based search engines, which simply retrieve relevant documents, Watson gleans context from the question to provide the user with precise and relevant answers, along with confidence ratings and supporting evidence. Its learning capabilities allow Watson to adapt and improve hypothesis generation and evaluation processes over time through interactions with users. Developers and other users can improve the accuracy of responses by "training" Watson. IBM is also continuing to expand Watson's capabilities to incorporate visualization, reasoning, ability to relate to users, and deeper exploration to gain a broader understanding of the information content. Watson recently launched a new platform service that has the ability to ingest and interpret still and video images, which is another significant type of unstructured data.
IBM has challenged developers to come up with ways to get the vast brain of its supercomputer Watson on to the world's mobile phones. Watson is an artificially intelligent computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. It also has access to 200 million pages of information, drawn from books, encyclopaedias and other databases. Apps could include more advanced Siri-like voice recognition systems or tools that can accurately translate text. "The power of Watson in the palm of your hand is a game-changing proposition, so we're calling on mobile developers around the world to start building cognitive computing apps infused with Watson's intelligence," said Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM Watson Group.
As cheap cloud computing services erode IBM's traditional hardware business with alarming speed, the company finds itself facing an uncertain future. If only there were some clever machine it could turn to for advice. Appropriately enough that's what a large part of IBM's research division is trying to create, by building on the research effort that led to Watson, the computer that won in the game show Jeopardy! in 2011. The hope is that this effort will lead to software and hardware that can answer complex questions by looking through vast amounts of information containing subtle and disparate clues. "We're betting billons of dollars, and a third of this division now is working on it," John Kelly, director of IBM Research, said of cognitive computing, a term the company uses to refer to artificial intelligence techniques related to Watson.