Computer doc-ing

After its well-publicized defeat of human trivia geniuses at Jeopardy, it was only a matter of time before IBM’s Watson supercomputer was set upon more socially impactful areas. In the news are reports that a major U.S. health care coverage provider has teamed up with IBM to see if Watson can successfully diagnose medical ailments and authorize treatments – by combing electronic patient medical records and expert care protocols with its artificial intelligence algorithms. While it can sometimes take weeks to see a doctor for non-urgent care, the eventual goal of the project is to render a diagnosis and suggest a course of treatment in less than three seconds, and to do so more accurately than a human physician. An enormous change by any measure.

Though the project is of course fraught with short-term technical and acceptance issues, it is a sign of our times and a likely trend in many other professional and expertise-based service areas. Ultimately, this trend promises to improve service quality, reduce costs and waiting, and curtail the need for human delivery of routine services. It also promises to move employment in these areas toward the creation and oversight of expert systems, and to greatly reduce traditional forms of employment overall. Learn more about Watson’s latest assignment at Supercomputer To Tackle Health Services, and consider the likely human impacts and opportunities waiting in the trend of increasing automation via a new HumanaNatura article by Mark Lundegren, The Real New Economy.

Photo courtesy of IBM Watson.

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