Friday, February 18, 2011

After conquering Jeopardy!, what's Watson's next "opponent?" It looks like it's healthcare.

Author: Riley Alexander, MD, MBA

As many of you who have any interest in technology are well aware of, the first human-computer battle of Jeopardy! concluded this week with IBM's "Watson" supercomputer trouncing its human competitors--two of the most prolific Jeopardy! contestants in history.

While I think this accomplishment seems lost on a great many people, it is truly remarkable to imagine this feat taking place in the grand scale of things and where this type of technology may be in another 10 years.

I happened to read today, over on CrunchGear, that one of the first practical implications of this impressive speech-recognition/human language processing will be put to use in the realm of medicine. Nuance, a company already involved in speech recognition via the popular Dragon Dictation software suite, plans to utilize the technological gains made in the development of Watson in a clinical setting.


What does this mean for physicians? Well, for fields like radiology and pathology that use a lot of dictation already, it means much more capable dictation programs that understand the nuances of human language much more efficiently and quicker. But Watson wasn't just a speech recognition software tool. Where it's interesting is that "he" was able to take in natural speech and "comprehend" that input and then rapidly search a database of information. This may allow clinicians or ER physicians the ability to record an encounter with a patient and have a differential diagnosis with treatment recommendations generated instantly.

Nuance plans to unveil something commercially within a couple of years...so our jobs are safe for a little while.

About the author:

Dr. Riley Alexander is a pathology resident at Indiana University School of Medicine, blog "addict" and avid follower of technology. His primary interests revolve around how technology, especially mobile, will create increased efficiency, enhanced physician education and better delivery of care in the medical field. Dr. Alexander is a graduate of Indiana University School of Medicine with a combined MD/MBA, in partnership with IU's Kelley School of Business. Due to this, he is also very interested in management, healthcare policy and non-clinical aspects of the medical field and enjoys exploring non-clinical opportunities for medical students, residents and physicians. He completed his undergraduate education at IU-Bloomington.

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