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The Program Will See You Now

IBM's Watson supercomputer has been pursuing a fellowship in treating leukemia patients at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Washington Post reports. There, it has been evolving from a program that spat out seemingly random treatments to one that suggests standard as well as experimental treatments, with varying probabilities of success, tailored to that patient.

"Every once in a while you'll see something and think, 'This shouldn't be.' The other way you're surprised is, 'Oh my God, why didn't I think of that?' We don't like to admit it," Tapan Kadia, an assistant professor there, tells the Post, "but it does happen."

Watson, of Jeopardy! contestant fame, has been fed journal articles, patient history data, and more that it then sifts through to identify patterns and make inferences. "Watson is not a creative thinker but a rational one," the Post notes. "It looks at known associations among various bits of data and calculates the probability that one provides a better answer to a question than another and presents the top ideas to the user."

IBM tells the Post that they envision Watson as a tool for physicians rather than as a replacement for them. "We are advocating that Watson does a lot of reading on behalf of physicians and provides them with timely insights," Rob Merkel, who leads IBM Watson's health group, says. IBM, the Post adds, plans to launch its Watson-based service matching genetic mutations to therapies later this year.