Watson, the IBM supercomputer best known for defeating two human champions on the game show Jeopardy! earlier this year, is teaming up with the health insurance company WellPoint to help medical professionals diagnose and treat patients.
On Monday, IBM and WellPoint announced they have agreed to develop the first commercial application for what might be the most famous computer in the world.
Watson is expected to serve as a powerful tool in the physician's decision making process, the companies wrote in a joint statement.
Watson, which was named after IBM founder Thomas J. Watson, is a computing system built by a team of scientists who aimed to create a system that rivals a human's ability to answer questions posed in natural language, a feat that was accomplished on Jeopardy! Watson's ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language and quickly process enormous amounts of information can help doctors and nurses identify the most beneficial diagnosis and treatment options for their patients.
Imagine having the ability to take in all the information around a patient's medical care -- symptoms, findings, patient interviews and diagnostic studies. Then, imagine using Watson analytic capabilities to consider all of the prior cases, the state-of-the-art clinical knowledge in the medical literature and clinical best practices to help a physician advance a diagnosis and guide a course of treatment, said Sam Nussbaum, WellPoint's chief medical officer, in a statement.
The Watson supercomputer is made up of 90 IBM Power 750 Express serves and is powered by eight-core processors, according to ComputerWorld. Its server cluster has a total processing capability of 80 teraflops -- one teraflop translates into one trillion operations per second.
Watson is capable of processing 200 million pages of data and provide precise responses in seconds. The supercomputer is also expected to streamline communication between a patient's physician and their health plan, and could potentially be used to direct patients to a doctor in their area who has the best record of treating a particular illness.
Although the program is still being developed, WellPoint anticipates it will begin employing Watson technology in clinical pilots by early 2012.
We believe this will be an invaluable resource for our partnering physicians and will dramatically enhance the quality and effectiveness of medical care they deliver to our members, Nussbaum said.