IBM Watson Group announced a $1 billion deal last week to acquire Merge Healthcare Inc. Merge Healthcare sells systems that help doctors store and access medical images, an essential step to eventually applying artificial intelligence to medicine. Merge Healthcare services is used by over 7,500 hospitals and clinics across the nation.
Why did IBM do this? IBM will combine cognitive computing technology with the newly acquired enormous database of medical images in order to improve and transform image-based diagnostics.
The most notable demonstration of Watson’s artificial intelligence capabilities is when it competed on the game show “Jeopardy!” By utilizing advanced natural-language processing and statistical analysis to interpret questions and provide the correct answers, Watson was able to routinely answer questions accurately. Recently, deep learning was added to Watson’s capabilities. Inspired by the interconnection of neurons in the human brain, this new approach to artificial intelligence involves teaching computers to identify patterns in data by processing it in a multitude of ways. IBM’s Watson technology has already produced very striking results in tests involving speech and image recognition.
With this type of intelligence, IBM strongly believes that medical imaging is the next field for Watson to conquer.
According to an IBM spokesperson,
“The incorporation of Merge into Watson Health will give medical professionals the ability to leverage Watson for assistance with analyzing X-rays, MRIs, angiograms, electrocardiograms, and other medical images to spot anomalies and support their diagnoses.”
For example, possible applications of automated image processing could potentially detect melanoma (a type of skin cancer), which is extremely incredible due to the fact that there are so many variations of melanoma.
How will it recognize the melanoma? By sending a computer multiple images of melanoma, the computer will teach itself to recognize and identify important features within the disease. Through this idea, IBM believes that acquiring Merge Healthcare Inc. will then give doctors important information about diagnosis and potential treatments rapidly.
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