Can IBM Watson bring about a sea change in cancer care?

Growth of data is exploding. In a recent IBM survey 83 per cent of CIOs cited BI as a part of their visionary Manoj Saxenaplan. Manoj Saxena, GM, IBM Watson Solutions who is heading this Project with his 120 member team, says “Data today is like the sea and users are dying of thirst in an ocean of salt”.

How does one move from search to discovery, what kind of innovation can be built into computing that allows adapting and learning from user responses. Having built the ‘Deep Blue’ IBM many years back demonstrated how it defeated one of the leading men of Chess, Gary Kasparov.

Recently, building yet another Intelligent system named Watson it was in the news for having beaten two of the most promising players in “Jeopardy”, a US-based game show challenge. Getting Watson to understand and respond to “Chicks dig me” is no easy feat!

So Manoj’s challenge was to move Watson from the “play hard” to the “work hard” mode. The specs of the two were quite different while the playing Watson was designed for one user, the working Watson was to deal with thousands of users. Moving from question and answers only to Q&A plus conversations requirement at work. Most importantly from basic security at play to high security at work.

Though Manoj says that Watson is still in very early days before commercialization, the applications which he talked about were interesting, which I will share with you in a while.IBM Watson

The ongoing plan for IBM is to build Watson, Teach and Run, there are two projects which the work has begun on how Watson is to be taught. Will Watson have to take a Medical Board Exam? This is quite disruptive, Manoj says, adding this will in a few years democratize health care.

He calls the Watson architecture as “Evidence-based probabilistic architecture”, where instead of searching (like what normal systems do) it discovers and gives out choices based on evidence.

JeopardyIBM has narrowed down to two industry case studies to explore future commercial opportunities. One such area is – Health Care in cancer research, being experimented in North America. One of the areas of research being gene therapy it needed huge amounts of data analyzed. This took a lot of time as often researchers needed to look at outcomes faster. By accelerating performance IBM is expecting Watson to bring about a huge change in the research for Cancer Care.

However, why only health care? This is because it contributes to significant percentage of the US GDP and has huge amounts of data that almost doubles every five years. We cannot be far from assuming errors in diagnosis and tests leading to fatal consequences.

IBM is working with WellPoint and a leading cancer foundation in a solution that will minimize errors in diagnosis and perhaps help doctors work out a monetization strategy, which will be a part of the overall treatment costs. Manoj says this can be an outcome based value price which he approximates to 1/3rd of the treatment costs. Manoj says that “we are getting our skin into this. The investment and effort is ours.”

Any reduction in time in research is a blessing. Huge amounts of time collapsing could even bring about therapies and results that could transform how treatments are done. Reducing diagnosis and treatment errors is yet another landmark. Both these measures will have tremendous impact in cancer care and success of Watson@Work.

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