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WHAT OTHERS SAY: IBM's 'Jeopardy' computer puts on a white coat

Monday, September 19, 2011 | 6:56 p.m. CDT; updated 7:20 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 19, 2011

So what if they could program a supercomputer with millions of articles from medical journals, case histories and diagnostic analyses?

A doctor facing a complicated case could then simply type in relevant data and see all the treatment possibilities in order of likelihood. Wouldn't that be useful?

It might just be. IBM's "Watson," the super data-crunching computer last seen in February beating two human champions in a "Jeopardy" challenge, has been hired by WellPoint Inc., the Blue Cross collaboration that is now the largest health benefits company in the nation.

WellPoint says it will use Watson to offer diagnosis and treatment options to doctors and case managers.

Think of television's grouchy "Dr. House," only a whole lot easier to deal with.

Watson, as we learned during the "Jeopardy" challenge, is actually 90 IBM Power 750 Express servers loaded with 200 million pages of documents. It is capable of processing the equivalent of a million books per second, learning as it goes along and answering in natural languages.

This is all excellent news, and we're sure WellPoint won't tell Watson to select only treatments not covered by insurance. The next challenge: a computer that can simplify health insurance.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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