After reading Fast Company’s article on how IBM’s Watson is learning its way to save lives, there was a moment where I wondered if IBM’s claim of Watson being the first machine of the third wave of computing, called cognitive computing, might impact the current rapidly growing market for traditional business intelligence, especially in healthcare. If indeed Watson can ingest more data in one day than any human could in a lifetime and Watson specializes in understanding unstructured data, then why are we burning the midnight oil to push healthcare data into sophisticated data models for analysis? Why not leave doctor and nurse notes as they are and stop disrupting productivity and workflow by turning these professionals into data entry clerks?
Three capabilities that set Watson and Cognitive Computing apart from today’s approach:
- Watson’s special talent is a singular ability to grasp the intricacies of human language and answer exceedingly difficult questions.
- Watson can absorb and navigate complex bodies of knowledge and difficult decision trees.
- Watson keeps learning (the most important of all!) and its skills can be applied anywhere.
These three capabilities could revolutionize healthcare and explains the reason that IBM has chosen to tackle the difficult, complex and highly unstructured data in healthcare – first. Not that Watson isn’t be pressed into service on Wall Street, but the greatest impact will be to provide the real decision support that we’ve been trying to do with business intelligence systems over the last twenty years. Watson can be harnessed to assist with making difficult diagnoses and helping selecting the right treatments. The ability of Watson to integrate all types of information from both inside and outside of a healthcare environment to engage in better decision-making is still an arduous task with traditional business intelligence tools.
We will continue to work on improving business intelligence systems using traditional structured and some unstructured data while Watson studies to pass the medical board exams, but we are hopeful that IBM will transition Watson into a cloud based utility to help drive down costs, improve patient safety and help each of us manage our health better. It is encouraging that innovative healthcare organizations like Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York are testing and proving this technology in addressing cancer while taking a holistic view of the patient. Now that’s real intelligence, don’t you agree?