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‘Jeopardy!'s’ famous Watson computer -- maybe make that Dr. Watson

Could Watson, the IBM computer that trounced two top-notch “Jeopardy!” players on the TV quiz show, become a fixture in the doctor’s office? Maybe, but not likely next week.

A Baltimore Sun story says Watson creator IBM and experts at the University of Maryland’s School of Medicine are looking at ways to merge the computer’s current “speech” skills with medical knowledge.

“In the future, I see the software sitting with the physician as he is interviewing the patient, and processing information in real time, and correlating that with the patient’s medical record and other records,” Dr. Eliot Siegel, director of the Maryland Imaging Research Technologies Lab at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, told the paper.

Watson could, the story goes on to say, become the provider of data in the same way current telemedicine technology links doctors in rural hospitals around the world with experts elsewhere.

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Robotics already plays a big role in medicine, particularly in surgery. But in those cases doctors control what the robots do. A future Watson might be “thinking” on its feet -- maybe even suggesting possible diagnoses to the attending physician as a patient rattles off his or her symptoms.

But things could get hairy when it starts “asking” questions in the examining room. Especially if it wants to play “Jeopardy!”


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