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Supercomputer Named Watson Could Revolutionize Health Care

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Mary Bubala 370x278 Mary Bubala
Mary Bubala joined WJZ in December 2003. She now anchors the 4-4:30...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) –When a super-human computer faced off against two of Jeopardy’s best contestants, the nation was mesmerized. Now that unstoppable computer is ready for its next assignment – helping to save your life.

Mary Bubala reports from the University of Maryland Medical Center, where you can feel the excitement.

A supercomputer named “Watson” wowed the world by beating Jeopardy’s top two contestants.

The supercomputer developed by IBM may be able to answer tricky questions with ease, but now it’s answering a call from the medical community — starting at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

It’s all because Dr. Eliot Siegel had a chance meeting with the Watson-Jeopardy team during a visit to IBM last year.

“I suggested to them that we might try to do the same thing in medicine and they said ‘Oh, that’s a really cool idea and they said rather than calling it Watson, maybe we could call it Dr. Watson,’” said Dr. Siegel.

Watson is able to understand language with all its nuances, and sift through 200 million pages of content in three seconds. Some believe it could revolutionize health care.

“Watson is answering medical questions as quickly and with the same level of confidence that it answered a lot of those hard Jeopardy questions,” said Dr. Herbert Chase, Professor of Clinical Medicine, Columbia University. 

“It may say, ‘Dr. Siegel, did you think of this particular diagnosis? I don’t see it anywhere in the chart. Would you consider this particular therapeutic option’ or it may say, ‘I have just read something in a journal or a textbook. Maybe you haven’t seen it yet,’” Siegel said.

The information explosion in modern medicine threatens to overload doctors, but Watson could help cut down on medical mistakes.

“It can check for inconsistencies in the records, drug interactions or diagnoses the patient as that he’s not been treated for. So it can do a safety check,” said Siegel.

Watson is a mega mind the size of 10 refrigerators. Some question if Dr. Watson needs to be a little more human for its next job.

“How can we give Dr. Watson a bedside manner and what should he or she look like? And should it be a disembodied voice or should we try to give it a face?” said Siegel.

Watson can understand language as we speak it–the difference between bat and bat for instance.

“It helps us appreciate our brain, our cognition, how we solve problems and how incredible the human mind and the human body is,” said David Ferrucci, IBM Watson Research Center.

It analyzes the equivalent of a million books and whittles down hundreds of answers to the best one.

Doctors say two minds are always better than one in medicine.

“I think patients will benefit by having me be a much better, up-to-date and smarter physician,” said Siegel.

Watson is filled with so much information, it would take a human 250,000 years to read it.

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