Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Over the Horizon

The very recent success of IBMs Watson Computer signals not only the beginning of advances in computer intelligence but the announcement that IBM is about to  embark on disciplines such as healthcare. The one million dollar prize, which Watson earned playing Jeopardy for IBM, is being donated by IBM to a charity.  Watson beat two of the show’s most successful and celebrated contestants – Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter – to win a $1 million grand prize that IBM donated to charity.However, the Watson experiment indicates how truly important artificial intelligence and natural language processing can be for all kinds of business uses, including health care, law, call centers and a lot more.

IBM created Watson as part of the company’s effort to help business make sense of the explosion of data. Watson can analyze the meaning and context of human language and rapidly process information to find more precise answers to questions posed in natural language. IBM maintains that this holds enormous potential to transform how computers help people accomplish tasks in business, communities and their personal lives.

For you  techno-geeks the hardware looked like this:

10 racks (about 90) of IBM Power 750 servers with 2880 Power7 cores capable of running at 80 teraflops, 500 GB per second on-chip bandwidth, a 10 GB Ethernet network, 15 terabytes of memory and 20 TBs of clustered disk storage. Watson evaluated the equivalent of 200 million pages of content – or about 1 million books’ worth – written in natural human

The research and technology initiative will combine IBM’s Deep Question Answering (QA), Natural Language Processing, and Machine Learning capabilities with Nuance's speech recognition and Clinical Language Understanding (CLU) solutions for the diagnosis and treatment of patients that provide hospitals, physicians and payers access to critical and timely information. The two companies expect the first commercial offerings from the collaboration to be available in 18 to 24 months. IBM and Nuance will jointly invest in a multi-year research initiative targeted to the applications of the Watson technology to assist in the diagnosis and treatment of patients in combination with Nuance’s voice and clinical language solutions. In addition, IBM has licensed access to the Watson technology to Nuance. IBM and Nuance are currently engaged in a five-year joint-research initiative designed to advance next-generation natural language speech technologies, the results of which will be commercialized by Nuance.

Much of this work has already been accomplished on many smartphone applications. Nuance and IBM will continue its longtime collaboration with speech-recognition software developer Nuance Communications to bring the analytics capabilities of supercomputer Watson into the health care field. Nuance will feed its CLU (Clinical Language Understanding) applications into IBM's Watson hardware.

Jonathan Yarmis, an independent industry analyst known as Doctor Disruptive for his focus on disruptive technologies, likens IBM’s Jeopardy success with Watson to President John F. Kennedy’s pledge of putting a man on the moon.

Moreover, Yarmis said, “The health care announcement with Nuance is just Step 1. Given Moore’s law, in five to seven years this [Watson-like capabilities] is something your standard desktop computer will do. And two years after that it’ll be on your tablet and on your cell phones the following year. This statement is highly ambitious and goes where no man has gone before…predictions such as this have been laid fallow in the past.

However, without dreams there is no progress. Who would have predicted a handheld phone would have more computing power than early desktop PCs?

My bet is that it will all fit in a watch or a ring on your little finger .

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