IBM wants to use Watson’s supercomputing prowess to crunch Big Data numbers and run mobile apps that directly impact the health of users.
The supercomputer Watson, which became famous for its conquest of the popular quiz show Jeopardy in 2011, once occupied a large room. But IBM has since shrunk its famous machine into the size of just three stacked pizza boxes that can be “installed in data centers around the world and made available as a cloud service to cellphone users,” according to New Scientist.
IBM is placing Watson in the hands of mobile device users who are willing to share personal health data in the cloud through the use of apps. It recently announced the 25 finalists for its Watson Mobile Developer Challenge, and the three winners will be announced on May 30. They will have 90 days of access to Watson’s application programming interface (API) and receive consulting advice from IBM.
The contest was unveiled by IBM CEO Ginni Rometty back in February at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to drum up interest among developers willing to leverage Watson’s machine learning and data crunching expertise.
San Antonio, Texas-based Biovideo is among the finalists in the healthcare services category. The app will train Watson to synthesize data from sources like the American Academy of Pediatrics and pediatric medical journals to help parents take care of their babies.
Meanwhile, Sense.ly/MyIdealDoctor wants Watson to analyze symptoms, medical history, medications and lab tests shared by users through an avatar, and based on these data, connect them to a telemedicine doctor who can diagnose conditions and prescribe medications.
GenieMD and GoGoHealth work similarly by asking symptoms and pulling medical information into an electronic health record that is pored over by a physician from a remote location. Ringful Health aims to make screening tests more accurate by letting Watson analyze medical literature and a patient’s health record from which health care decisions are made.
The Health Plan App by Ultramatics is focusing on the insurance side of health care by letting Watson help users pick the best health plan based on their health care needs.
These health apps aim to utilize Watson’s ability to learn and adjust depending on user input, as well as changing data from sources like news items, encyclopedias, journals, databases, all stored in the cloud.
Even before the company’s interest in health apps, IBM has been pushing Watson to work on ambitious projects in the health care field.
For instance, it is helping oncologists in creating individualized, evidence-based treatments at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. It has partnered with the New York Genome Center to analyze genetic data and medical literature in coming up with new cancer treatments.
While IBM can bank on Watson’s legendary status in its mission to develop mobile apps, it is not the only major player that will drive mHealth innovation.
"Watson is a very clever piece of kit and it's great that the technology is being made available to developers in the cloud," Peter Bentley, a computer scientist and app developer at University College London, told New Scientist.
"But in the long term I think this is a temporary solution. Within five years this kind of cognitive technology will be mainstream and will even run on our everyday devices. Watch Siri and her siblings become ever more clever over the next few years," said Bentley.