IBM Super Computer Brain Headed to Hospital Near You

Dennis Faas's picture

Do you watch Jeopardy!?

For those unfamiliar, Jeopardy! is "a North American quiz show featuring trivia in history, literature, the arts, pop culture, science, sports, geography, wordplay, and more. The show has a unique answer-and-question format in which contestants are presented with clues in the form of answers, and must phrase their responses in question form." (Source:

Recently, IBM's Watson super computer brain was able to defeat two of Jeopardy's most acclaimed game show champions. One of the human champions won Jeopardy! a mind-blowing 74 times in a row, with over 3 million dollars in prize money.

In comparison to its human counterparts, IBM's Watson was capable of storing information found online the Internet (among other troves of data), and from that, was able to parse the data and come up with an answer (in the form of a question) to the trivia in less than a second. An amazing feat indeed, considering you could ask it any question (or answer) and it would have the solution in less than a second.

Watson Helps Determine Condition, Treatment Options

While the technology that powers Watson presents a world of new possibilities, those in the medical profession (for whom IBM is hoping will be the first to utilize the system) should rejoice at its proposed price tag.

IBM is hoping that Watson-like systems will help doctors and other health care professionals sift through an endless sea of patient information to determine how to best treat conditions that are specific to each individual.

In other words, a physician treating a patient could use the analytic technology of Watson, together with voice and clinical language comprehension software, to reference patient history, related cases and the latest medical journals to determine the best option for diagnosis and treatment.

The decoding of patient information from physician to physician is a needless obstacle in the medical profession. Some doctors use abbreviations and short-text explanations that exacerbate the translation process from anywhere between 10 minutes to an hour. (Source:

With Watson, IBM is hoping that this wasted time is reduced to mere seconds.

An Inexpensive Intellect

In addition to its time-saving, innovative features, Watson-like systems are relatively cheap by medical standards.

The actual Watson super computer comprised 90 IBM Power 750 Express servers powered by 8-core processors. Multiply that by four in each server and Watson was running 32 processors per machine, and a grand total of 2,880 processing cores (roughly equivalent to 2,880 single-core CPUs, or 2,880 PCs running a single-core processor).

Considering the fact that a Power 750 server currently costs $34,500, the 90 that make up Watson would sell for about $3 million -- far too much for the average individual, but not that expensive given the current cost of most medical equipment. (Source:

IBM is hoping that Watson-like super computers will be ready for hospital use in about two year's time.

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