On Wednesday January 8th I was asked to hold a meeting regarding the potential involvement of my company (Kanteron Systems) in IBM’s Watson. It was a late night meeting, on the 54th floor of the still under construction World Trade Center. The reason why the meeting took place there is because the IBM team was finishing the set up of the next day’s Watson presentation.
What is Watson, you may ask? Watson is basically one of the biggest revolutions in computing in History.
The next morning I was invited to the event, along with a short group of journalists, partners and VIPs. After the delicious breakfast and the required hand shaking round, Virginia (Ginny) Rometty, Chariman, President and CEO of IBM, introduced Watson: a new era of computing. Cognitive computing with natural language processing. The previous eras have been “tabulating” and “programming”. Like Dr. Banavar, VP of Cognitive Computing at IBM likes to say: “we have gone from Von Neuman machines to NeuroSynaptic systems”.
In order to understand the historical significance of the announcement, keep in mind that IBM has only created 4 new divisions in recent history: “Mainframe” in the 60’s, “PC” in the 80’s, “Global Services” in the 90’s, and now “Watson”, which is to be headquartered at 54 Astor Place, New York (a few blocks from my apartment and my office), and led by Michael Rhodin, who personally gave me the IBM Healthcare and Life Sciences Beacon Award in Las Vegas last year.
Watson explores, reasons and visualizes, understands natural language, generates and evaluates hypotheses (this process can be evaluated, which is crucial), adapts and learns. This is BIG. And the fact that IBM is dedicating 1/3 of all its researchers to Watson, proves their commitment.
Why is this needed? Because today 2.5 BILLION GB of data is created every day, and 80% of it is unstructured.
Travel agents cannot search over 64 million online local businesses reviews, over 15 million forums and blog posts, 7 thousand travel guides, and 1,291 air carrier websites for each customer request. But Watson can, and does.
Like Dr. Baselga, Physician-in-chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, told me: 20 years ago there were 4 cancer treatments, today there are over 80, and currently over 800 are being studied. And how do you keep abreast of the more than 5,000 biomedical articles published every month? If you add to that what Dr. Graham, Chief Innovation Officer at Cleveland Clinic, pointed out “medical information doubles every 5 years”, then we have a situation that is getting out of control, and leads to what Jay Katzen, President of Clinical Solutions at Elsevier quoted: preventable medical errors are the 3rd cause of death in the USA (400,000 people every year).
It saddens me that very well respected media outlets like The Wall Street Journal or Business Week do not get it. Their coverage of the announcement was extremely short sighted. But keep an eye on IBM and Watson, because it is going to change the world as we know it, and it is going to happen very quickly.
Being invited and evaluated to be part of that revolution, having a chance to contribute to the “Hourglass” project to teach Watson to “read and understand medical images” is not only an honor for Kanteron Systems, it’s also a real thrill.