IBM supercomputer takes on new role in health arena

There's reportedly a Watson tablet and computer app doctors can use to help treat lung cancer.

IBM's Watson supercomputer has gone from game show king to doctor's office helper.

You may recall the epic man vs. machine battle two years ago in which the supercomputer beat former champions on the show Jeopardy.

Well, now there's a Watson tablet and computer app doctors can use to help treat lung cancer and another for health insurance companies to figure out which claims to pay, reports The Associated Press.

For the cancer program, Watson analyzed 1,500 lung cancer cases from medical records, plus millions of pages of medical text. It also is able to learn when corrected for generating a wrong answer. Armed with all this data, Watson will suggest to doctors which treatments will most likely succeed, prioritized by its level of confidence in them.

The Maine Center for Cancer Medicine and WestMed in New York's Westchester County will both be using the lung cancer app by March.

Health insurer WellPoint, which actually will be selling both applications as part of an agreement with IBM, is already using the Watson app in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio and Wisconsin to sift through insurance claims and determine which ones to authorize.

Since Watson's victory on Jeopardy, IBM says the supercomputer's performance has increased by 240 percent and been used to analyze finance and health care data as well as in a university setting to research big data, analytics and cognitive computing.

The company also is moving some of its underlying technologies from the supercomputer into new entry-level servers used by SMBs. IBM's recently announced Power Express servers will integrate some hardware and software elements derived from Watson.

Expect to hear more about Watson--IBM says its use "will be expanding to production-level deployments in new use cases and industries going forward."

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