Putting a Human Face on Wellness

How IBM’s Watson is helping us lead healthier lives

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IBM Watson may be the smartest supercomputer of our time. Watson, a cognitive question answering machine, processes data like a human by reading and understanding natural language, creating hypotheses based on evidence, and learning on the go. Watson accumulates knowledge in three distinct ways: being taught by people, learning from past interactions, and being given new information. In other words, Watson generates the answer itself, which is more than what search engines do by returning a ranked list of documents in order of relevance to your question. This type of artificial intelligence is the Holy Grail, allowing machines to converse more naturally with humans.

In recent years, Watson has been used in a number of innovative ways, challenging our perception of artificial intelligence and its capabilities. In 2011, Watson did its best Deep Blue impersonation – and made history in the process – by defeating grand champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the first round of the Jeopardy IBM Challenge. And at this year’s SXSW festival, IBM put Watson in control of the menu of a food truck. Four prominent chefs collaborated with the cognitive computing system, using its database of millions of recipes and ingredient options to create dishes that regular people would have never thought of before. The supercomputer has also been used in the realm of customer service to help human representatives more quickly answer consumer questions, increasing its knowledge and value over time.

With a newly signed deal with Apple, IBM is looking to collaborate on a number of apps targeting the retail, healthcare, banking, travel, transportation, telecommunications, and insurance industries, showing just how pervasive and powerful the Watson technology can be. In the realm of health and wellness, Watson has revolutionary potential. Just last month, IBM outlined new advances for Watson’s cognitive computing system that would increase returns on research and development. These new capabilities will catalyze health professionals’ ability to leverage data and medical records in order to determine the most effective diagnosis and treatment options for their patients. In conversation with Halle Tecco, co-founder and CEO of Rock Health, she notes:

“There are huge benefits and great byproducts of having a more data driven system. If we’re able to make better treatment decisions, if we’re able to better diagnose diseases earlier because we have the technology or the data to do so, then we’re ultimately helping people, because we’re taking care of people much sooner.”

Supercomputers such as Watson will be able to consider a wider range of information, from aggregated success rates to individual medical histories, to significantly tailor treatment options to achieve the best outcomes for every patient, or even predict diseases before they strike. Watson’s cognitive capabilities are transforming the way wellness professionals do their jobs. Below are examples of how the healthcare industry is tapping into the power of Watson:

-Students at the Cleveland Clinic used Watson to map factors related to various health conditions to the most likely diagnoses and ultimately determine satisfactory treatments.

-WellPoint Inc. trained Watson with 25,000 historical cases of utilization management, which then used its hypothesis generation and evidence based learning techniques to help nurses make better decisions.

-IBM, Sutter Health and Geisinger Health Systems used Watson to determine early warning signs of heart disease by analyzing big data such as demographics, health history, and medications documented in electronic health records.

When looking at these examples, it’s not hard to envision Watson at the center of a more connected healthcare system, where doctors and nurses will have access to databases that are synced with the latest information from academic journals, hospitals and across the web. This rich information can be mined for deeper insights about individuals and entire communities, which will result in earlier spotting of warning signs, more accurate diagnoses, and more effective treatments. It won’t replace our current model of care, but rather enhance it, allowing more time for human interaction when these face-to-face conversations matter most. Beyond treatments and prediction, Watson’s greatest potential might lie in its ability to prevent. In the future, it could easily become an integral part of daily life, acting as a personal health and wellness advisor that travels around in our pockets, on our wrists or even embedded somewhere on our bodies. In that scenario, it could monitor our activities and provide suggestions on what to eat, how much to exercise, or when to go to sleep, keeping us illness and injury free. With humans and artificial computer systems working together, the future of health will not only be streamlined and more efficient, but also will allow people to lead healthier and happier lives. This story is brought to you by PSFK x smartwater.

The Future of Health Report IBM Watson watson_infographic-FINAL