I don’t remember where I learned about IBM’s Watson for the first time, but I do remember being fixated to a TV screen in complete awe that a computer was competing in Jeopardy. At the time, it was known that Watson had potential for use in various industries, but it seemed so far away.
As a refresher, Watson began development in 2006 when IBM wanted to take on the challenge of using artificial intelligence to compete in Jeopardy. The idea only came after IBM had created AI that could compete and win chess matches against professional players. Both feats gained a lot of publicity, like any Jeopardy playing computer would, but the real goal was a far cry from winning Jeopardy or chess. IBM wanted a computer that could process natural (human) language using extensive search and analytics.
If thoughts of Google come to mind, Watson is actually quite different. While search engines use keywords to process human queries, Watson accounts for language nuances such as grammar and slang before it produces a final answer. A search engine delivers results for users to sift through and find answers on their own. Without any internet connection, Watson delivers the answer for the user.
One of the largest industries in need of such answers is healthcare and now, in 2012, Watson is being trained to become a doctor’s assistant. The computer has been fed with information from medical research, journals and textbooks to an extent that it can process 200 million pages in three seconds. IBM is already in talks with hospitals and medical leaders, hoping to have Watson pilot testing in hospitals by the end of the year. Once there, it will be used as a resource for doctors, giving several solutions with its confidence level for each.
Data is a huge industry with IBM at the forefront of putting these technologies to use. Watson is only the beginning of a large movement into smarter, more human computer intelligence. In the video below, you can see how IBM researchers think it will benefit customer service: