Watson, the computer built by IBM that managed to beat the human Jeopardy champions in February, has set its processing superbrain on medicine.

The idea is that patients will tell Watson their symptoms, and the computer will try to deduce what the patient is saying using natural language processing algorithyms. It will then provide a diagnosis based on the information from 200 million documents stored on its 90 servers.

Computer aided diagnosis is becoming increasingly important as more medical knowledge is created. 10,000 medical papers are created each year, and even the most skilled doctor isn’t able to store all the information in their head.

And if Dr Watson becomes a staple in all hospitals, then the quality of diagnosis will increase significantly – Watson wouldn’t give a wrong diagnosis because it is tired or lazy! Also,  It could also cause major improvements to the healthcare of the poor (who often suffer inferior quality diagnosis from over worked staff).

There are criticisms of Watson being given a stethoscope. According to some physicians, only a trained surgeon can understand medicine – and medical knowledge is in a completely different ballpark to Jeopardy.

However, even if Watson isn’t fit to serve this purpose, I can’t imagine it would be long until a new computer came along to fill its surgical gloves.

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