IBM's Watson Gets Its First Real JobS

IBM's insanely powerful supercomputer Watson is awesome. Obviously. But after its impressive public debut, I figured it wouldn't function in the real world for a year or two. Instead, some medical patients will reap Watson's rewards even sooner.

The Wall Street Journal says that healthcare provider WellPoint has inked a deal with Big Blue to gain Watson's services.

The first Watson deployment would come early next year with WellPoint nurses who manage complex patient cases and review treatment requests from medical providers. Then the insurer will roll out the technology to a small number of oncology practices, which would likely allow doctors to access it through their own computer systems or tablets. Lori Beer, a WellPoint executive vice president, said the company hopes the service will improve quality of care, which it believes could lower costs.

WellPoint officials said they ultimately want to provide the Watson service more broadly to physicians who treat complicated chronic conditions, and they hope to create an application that could be accessed directly by patients seeking health information.

Watson made its debut on Jeopardy earlier this year, where it stomped the two greatest players the game show has ever seen. One of the cutting-edge capabilities of the supercomputer is that it can understand and analyze near-conversational English, then provide a logical response (though it's not always perfect). In the future, Watson could be listening in as patients tell doctors what their problem is, then help the doctor to diagnose the patient. Medicine has always been as one area in which Watson's would be utilized (along with other very serious applications, like video games). [WSJ via Cnet]