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IBM: Future computers will be constant learners

Joab Jackson | Feb. 17, 2012
Tomorrow's computers will constantly improve their understanding of the data they work with, which in turn will help them provide users with more appropriate information, predicted the software mastermind behind IBM's Watson system.

 

Watson could even go as far as to read electronic health records and make a preliminary diagnosis. It can even find clinical trials in which the patient could participate. "It is often the case that clues of a patient's illness can be found in the medical record--it's just the doctors haven't found them yet," Chase said.

Chase recalled a tricky case he came across when he had just graduated from medical school--one that Watson could have easily helped solve. A woman had been bedridden because of weakening muscles. Chase spent the better part of a month querying colleagues and investigating the literature, and finally found the right diagnosis: rickets. It was a tricky diagnosis because rickets is a bone disease, not a muscle disease. She had a very rare form of the disease.

Fast-forward 35 years later. Chase thought of this case and fed the symptoms into Watson. It provided the answer almost instantaneously. If Watson had been in place all those years ago, it could have saved the patient a month's worth of hospital time. "Watson has bridged the information gap, and its potential for improving health care and reducing costs is immense," Chase said.

 

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