Technology as we know it is changing. We are no longer floored by the ever-evolving efficiency of computer processors, with Moore’s Law stating that processor speeds or overall processing power for computers will double every two years. Instead, we are interested in what technology can accomplish with the data that we are processing at these higher speeds.
We want to know how to analyze the vast collection of data, sift through it and make it meaningful and useful to us.
The best example of this change in perception of technology is seen with the growing capabilities of IBM’s Watson. Watson is an “IBM supercomputer that combines artificial intelligence and analytical software for optimal performance as a ‘question/answering’ machine”. The existence of Watson raises the poignant question: As much as technology has taken us places further, faster and more efficiently than previous generations ever imagined, can technology, ultimately, think? IBM would argue that Watson can.
When faced with a question, Watson generates a response as well as a level of confidence in its answer based on its reference of millions of pages of information and logic principles – all communicated back to us in human terms and language. In 2011, Watson even beat Jeopardy stars Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter in the television quiz show, buzzing in and answering questions via a single monitor between the two human competitors, while the rest of the servers were housed beneath the Jeopardy stage.
While undoubtedly impressive, the purpose for Watson and the use of this technology changed yet again, to focus less on the quick attainment of trivia answers from an archive, and instead, channeling it toward making real and meaningful discoveries and changes.
The medical field stands to benefit most from Watson’s powerful “brain”, as it is already capable of storing far more medical information than human doctors, and bases its findings on evidence free of human error and biases based on experience or personal opinion. Most importantly, Watson keeps learning. With IBM scientists continuing to train Watson to apply additional knowledge to its pre-existing knowledge, combined with Watson’s endless ability to learn and process new information, its likely only a matter a time before “its diagnostic performance surpasses that of even the sharpest doctors.”
In the belly of its vast amount of stored information, could Watson eventually spit out an algorithm that contains a cure for cancer? While the answer to a question like that is currently unknown, the capabilities of technology has never been more boundless or more fascinating to watch unfold.
Had you heard of Watson before? Can you imagine a day where a computer shares your medical diagnosis with you? I look forward to your thoughts below.