IBM’s supercomputer: Jeopardy was too easy, time to cure cancer

Alex Trebek exploring the depths of Watson's server racks during the IBM Challenge episode of Jeopardy.

IBM’s Watson, the supercomputer that gave our best two Jeopardy-playing humans what-for in three nights of play two years ago, is now showing mortals how to do better at another classic human struggle: curing cancer. Watson has spent the last year parsing data on cancer treatments from the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Center and is now being offered as a cloud-based application for determining the best course of action for cancer patients.

While Watson’s turn at Jeopardy was entertaining and a true battle of man versus machine, the computer’s higher purpose was always in medicine. During a panel discussion of Watson held as the computer did battle with Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, Dr. Chris Welty, a member of Watson’s algorithms team, noted that the computer had a future in helping diagnose medical conditions (as well as in tech support).

According to the Associated Press, Watson has improved its performance by 240 percent since its Jeopardy stint. In March 2012, scientists at Sloan-Kettering set Watson about the task of internalizing 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, 1.5 million patient records, 2 million pages of texts from medical journals, and 1,500 lung-cancer cases.

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