Why I Want The Watson Computer to (Help) Take Care of My Baby

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I became a dad a few months ago and remember clearly how nerve-racking the birth of my child was. And even once the (thankfully healthy) kid got here, you spend a lot of time operating in the dark about what might be happening if something goes wrong. As great as doctors and nurses are, they’re parsing innumerable variables when it comes to logging data and hypothesizing diagnoses.

The remedy may just be the Watson supercomputer, last seen besting humanity’s finest trivia minds on Jeopardy! Well, not so much Watson as a data-guzzling cousin named Artemis.

As discussed in MIT’s Technology Review, Artemis represents another implementation of the data stream management Watson used to field Alex Trebek’s questions. In trials currently being conducted at Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, the Artemis system can monitor biometric information like body temperature, breath rate and heart rate to help make diagnoses faster than with paper-based charting. The real-time readings can also be cross-referenced with medical history and past charting to instantly track changes, too. The platform architecture powering Artemis–called InfoSphere Streams–is continuously aggregating data:

“The processing paradigms we had before just didn’t fit with the kind of streaming data we are dealing with,” says McGregor. Software has traditionally performed analysis by systematically scouring a fixed, well-organized store of data, like a person navigating the stacks of a library, she explains.

InfoSphere Streams, in contrast, is based around a newer, alternative model known as stream computing. Information constantly flows into the software, where question-answering algorithms act like filters, pulling out answers from the information available at any particular moment.

The joke with advanced AI and computing systems like Watson and Artemis is that they’re going to take over the world a la the Skynet cyborgs in the Terminator films or the enslaved-human machine totalitarianism of the Matrix movies. But innovations like this suggest an alternative conclusion: That the hyper-awareness possible by algorithmically advanced information systems may help us live healthier, from life’s earliest beats.