Turbotodd

Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

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IBM Taps Next Generation Leaders For Watson Innovation

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The Watson Case Competition at USC, the third in a series hosted by IBM, is the latest example of IBM's work with academia to advance interest among students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculums that will lead to high-impact, high-value careers. The competition is in keeping with IBM's Academic Initiative which delivers course work, case studies and curricula to more than 6,000 universities and 30,000 faculty members worldwide to help students prepare for high-value future job opportunities.

The Watson Case Competition at USC, the third in a series hosted by IBM, is the latest example of IBM’s work with academia to advance interest among students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculums that will lead to high-impact, high-value careers. The competition is in keeping with IBM’s Academic Initiative which delivers course work, case studies and curricula to more than 6,000 universities and 30,000 faculty members worldwide to help students prepare for high-value future job opportunities.

While I was out trying to grok all things SXSW Interactive these past several days, IBM continued with its efforts to put IBM Watson to work for the betterment of mankind by turning to the next generation of brilliant young minds to help figure out where Watson should work next.

Imagine a Watson-powered system that could uncover data-driven insights to help medical professionals identify those who may be suffering silently from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Imagine a Watson that could provide lawyers with faster research capabilities to improve their cases.

Imagine a Watson that could help businesses hire the best talent in the job market.

This is the magnitude of ideas sparked by more than 100 University of Southern California students who gathered recently to compete in the IBM Watson Academic Case Competition.

A debut on the West Coast, the Case Competition put USC students in the spotlight to create business plans for applying Watson to pressing business and societal challenges — and IBM business leaders were present and listening carefully.

IBM: Partnering To Learn

IBM partners with thousands of universities to offer curricula, internships and hands-on experiences to help students learn first hand about new technologies in the fields of Big Data, analytics and cognitive computing.

The company is at the forefront of creating a new workforce of Big Data trained professionals, from IBM’s collaboration with Cleveland Clinic, which provides Watson as a collaborative learning tool for medical students, to its public-private partnership with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York to create the Pathways in Technology Early College High School program (P-TECH), which allows students to participate in a six year science and technology program and graduate with an associates degree for free in computer science or engineering.

To kick-off the competition at USC’s campus, IBM provided students with a crash course on Watson’s breakthrough capabilities, including a demonstration of how Watson is helping WellPoint, Inc. and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center improve the speed and quality of treatment for cancer patients.

As the first cognitive computing system of its kind in the marketplace, Watson is able to understand and process the subtleties of human questions, sift through vast amounts of data, and use sophisticated analytics to generate fast, accurate answers for its human users.

Watson also learns from its interactions, constantly improving with each use. This represents a major shift in organizations’ ability to quickly analyze, understand and respond to Big Data, in industries such as healthcare — and this is where student minds were put to the test.

As part of the competition, students were assigned into 24 teams and given 48 hours to define a new purpose for Watson, develop a business plan, and present it to a panel of judges comprising school officials, IBM executives and local business leaders.

The challenge was unique among USC competitions because students worked toward a common goal with peers from other disciplines — similar to how IBM combines the talent of business leaders and research scientists to develop its patented innovations.

To foster interdisciplinary collaboration, each team was required to have at least one business and one engineering member, from USC’s Marshall Business School and Viterbi School of Engineering.

What’s Your Business Plan For Watson?

The student teams faced two rounds of judging based on four areas of criteria: how well the concept and supporting plan articulated and supported the team’s vision; the feasibility of bringing the product or service to market and the supporting elements; the extent the proposed solution leverages Watson’s key capabilities; and the team’s presentation. Three winning ideas were selected by a panel of eight industry and faculty judges, including representatives from Bank of America, Ernst & Young, and IBM.

  • 1st Place – Legal Research: Let Watson Do the Discovery for Your Next Legal Case – For corporate legal departments, building a case — or defending one’s own — relies heavily on fast and accurate research. Past legal trials, court documents, articles and digital evidence: all of these materials can make or break a case, and together they comprise a sea of unstructured data that is both time-consuming and costly to pore through. The first place USC team proposed using Watson to process its users’ research needs, based on its ability to think like a human, quickly sift through online legal documents for facts, and not only identify evidence to support a case — but forecast its probability of success. The first place team’s viewpoint: by placing Watson in charge of research, firms can recover time and costs, while delivering better legal outcomes. In turn, firms that leverage Watson’s speed and efficiency can address the growing legal trend towards “flat fee” billing and research outsourcing.
  • 2nd Place – Employee Training: Watson Uncovers the Keys to Success for Your Employees – According to the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), 41 percent of employees at companies with inadequate training programs plan to leave within a year, versus 12 percent of employees at companies who provide excellent training and professional development programs. Conversely, the ASTD also states that effective employee training can lead to 218 percent higher income per employee and 45 percent higher shareholder return than market average. The second place USC team proposes that corporate human resource departments use Watson to optimize employee training, by crunching data pertaining to the employers’ HR needs, the employees’ career goals, and the range of training options available that can help both parties succeed. The second place team’s viewpoint: by improving employee satisfaction and retention, a Watson-powered employee training system can also drive higher shareholder value.
  • 3rd Place – Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Watson Helps Doctors Find Patients – It is reported that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder affects nearly 7.7 million U.S. adults aged 18 and older. This includes people who have served in combat, experienced domestic violence, have been in car accidents, or other traumatic events. Many with PTSD suffer silently, including the 400,000+ U.S. veterans who have yet to be identified and treated, per the U.S. Veterans Administration. Thankfully, the catalysts behind this illness need no longer remain invisible — due largely to Big Data. For example, there are now unprecedented amounts of data that accompany soldiers who return from war, from medical histories to information on combat experiences. The third place USC team proposes that physicians use Watson to identify people who may develop PTSD, by uncovering insights from data that can help piece together their personal story and shed light on pain he or she may be experiencing. The team’s viewpoint: by helping physicians find and diagnose those suffering from PTSD, Watson can help medical professionals offer patients the treatment they deserve.

Fueling Innovation While Investing In The Next Generation Of Tech Leaders

This competition is the latest example of how IBM is fueling innovation and working with students in higher education to hone valuable business skills that will shape the next generation of industry leaders.

"Partnering with universities such as USC gives IBM a unique opportunity to tap into the minds of our next-generation of leaders, whose training, skills and ideas for changing the world are all forward-thinking and based on a desire to make a meaningful impact,” said Manoj Saxena, IBM General Manager, Watson Solutions. "These students see what Watson is doing right now and think -- how else will cognitive computing impact my life and career in the years to come? To us, that's exactly the mindset that should be fueling IBM innovations, and the very reason we host Watson Academic Case Competitions."

“Partnering with universities such as USC gives IBM a unique opportunity to tap into the minds of our next-generation of leaders, whose training, skills and ideas for changing the world are all forward-thinking and based on a desire to make a meaningful impact,” said Manoj Saxena, IBM General Manager, Watson Solutions, about the new initiative. “These students see what Watson is doing right now and think — how else will cognitive computing impact my life and career in the years to come? To us, that’s exactly the mindset that should be fueling IBM innovations, and the very reason we host Watson Academic Case Competitions.”

Due to the overwhelming response from USC students seeking to participate in the Watson Academic Case Competition, students had to join a waiting list, once the 24-team maximum had been reached. One faculty sponsor, noting that the level of interest was unprecedented for a campus case competition, predicted registration could reach 500 next year.

“For USC students, the opportunity to share their own ideas with IBM on how to commercialize Watson is truly a unique experience,” said Ashish Soni, Executive Director of Digital Innovation and Founding Director of the Viterbi Student Innovation Institute at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. “As educators, we’re quite pleased to see students getting excited about cognitive computing innovation, because we know there’s a business demand for the types of skills they get to showcase in Watson Case Competitions.”

Watson — Building a New Big Data Workforce 

It’s no secret that employers across the U.S. are seeking job candidates who can analyze and build strategy around Big Data, or the 2.5 quintillion bytes of information gleaned from sensors, mobile devices, online transactions and social networks, to name just a few sources. A recent Gartner report estimates that 1.9 million Big Data jobs will be created in the U.S. by 2015.

The Watson Case Competition at USC, the third in a series hosted by IBM, is the latest example of IBM’s work with academia to advance interest among students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) curriculums that will lead to high-impact, high-value careers. The competition is in keeping with IBM’s Academic Initiative which delivers course work, case studies and curricula to more than 6,000 universities and 30,000 faculty members worldwide to help students prepare for high-value future job opportunities.

IBM worked closely with academic institutions during the development and introduction of Watson. Eight leading universities around the world participated in the development phase of the system; and more than 10,000 students watched Watson triumph on the Jeopardy! quiz show in February 2011. Most recently, IBM announced it would provide a modified version of an IBM Watson system to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, making it the first university to receive such a system that will enable leading-edge research by faculty and students.

The competition at USC marks the latest collaboration between the university and IBM. Over the last two years, students at the school’s Annenberg Innovation Lab have been using Big Data analytics technologies to conduct social sentiment analyses and determine public engagement on topics such as sports, film, retail and fashion.

Two of the biggest projects looked at Major League Baseball’s World Series and the Academy Awards, projects developed for students to explore and expand their skills as they prepare for new data-intensive careers.  IBM also collaborated with the USC Marshall School of Business for “The Great Mind Challenge,” a global academic initiative focused on providing students with an opportunity to turn their social networking savvy into business ready skills to prepare for the jobs of the future.

Live @ IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit Madrid: IBM’s Mike Rhodin On Insight-Driven Computing

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IBM vice president Mike Rhodin hit the stage this morning at the IBM Smarter Commerce Global Summit, with presenter emcee Jon Briggs introducing Mike as “the man who eats analytics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.’

IBM senior vice president Mike Rhodin explains to the gathered audience in Madrid how the Smarter Commerce initiative was a logical and inevitable offshoot of IBM’s smarter planet campaign, one driven by the need for more insight- and action-driven analytics.

Rhodin’s talk was entitled “Transform Your Business Around the Customer,” again with the central theme of the Summit that if more businesses wanted to keep theirs, they would increasingly have to pivot their business around customer needs.

Rhodin indicated that he wanted to take a step backward from yesterday’s more outcome-driven discussion, and instead talk about “some of the foundational ideas that led us to Smarter Commerce.”

He explained that four years ago, IBM started a conversation about having a “smarter planet,” one increasingly instrumented, interconnected, and intelligent, and that since that time, “analytics emerged as a centerpiece across our entire portfolio.”

Rhodin joked that the financial crisis’ onslaught wasn’t the best time to launch a new marketing campaign, but then explained smarter planet wasn’t that, that it was a signal call heralding a new age of computing. That it was, in fact, the beginning of a movement that was going to happen “no matter what else happened in the world.”

The change this movement would bring was startling.  We saw the social media embraced in both the social, political, and, increasingly business realms, and we saw that the physical world was about to become digitized…to some degree, because of the crisis.

Scott Laningham and I sat down with Mike Rhodin in the Smarter Commerce Global Summit Solutions Center just after his keynote in Madrid here this morning to discuss the evolution of the Smarter Commerce initiative, and the opportunity it, and other emerging technologies such as IBM’s Watson, provide companies looking to become more analytics and data-driven.

Ergo, the world, and organizations, needed to better understand systemic risk in advance of its rearing its ugly head.  Hence, the need to instrument the world around us.

“Information was flowing around the planet at a breakneck speed,” Rhodin articulated, “and so there was another form of input to make business decisions that became apparent.”

“We also instrumented the virtual world,” he went on, “whereby understanding the sentiment of your employees, your partners, and other constituents was critical.”

Yet all this new data was overwhelming many. “It was growing at such a speed that people couldn’t read or process it with traditional means, and so that’s where analytics started to play a key role, and served as a foundation for Smarter Commerce.”

“This began what we’re classifying as the next generation of computing,” Rhodin went on to explain.  “We went through the age of ‘tabulating’ — we’re now entering the age of “information-based” computing.”

In this age, business outcomes are increasingly insight-driven, solutions are more intelligent, and technology is designed to be more and more cognitive.

“It’s not about understanding what happens, but rather, what you do about it, what actions you take,” Rhodin concluded.

With this explosion of data from a hyper-connected society of empowered consumers, we “must extract insight from our most important assets – employees and customers – through smarter analytics,” and the challenge, then, is to address the need for “volume, velocity, and veracity” to help find the right data amidst all those needles amidst all those haystacks.

And it’s a big series of haystacks and needles.  The data generated between the dawn of civilization and 2003 is now created every two days! Rhodin explained.

He went on: “These next gen systems are creating opportunities in IT we haven’t seen in 50 years.  But now, with all this information and analytics, and the march of globalization, we can start to automate areas of business we could never automate before. We can start to automate and make more intelligent the front-office areas of our business. Chief Financial Officers, CMOs, head of sales, HR…we can turn HR from a reactive to proactive process.”

“We’ve identified a new pattern of automation across industries, one whereby we can instrument, interconnect, and analyze more and more data about the world, and in the process unlock more and more valuable insight,” he explained. “We are infusing intelligent into the fabric  of organizational processes. This shift is as profound as the last evolution was to transaction processing and back office automation.”

The shift being, of course, a continual transition whereby today’s analytics evolves into tomorrow’s cognitive computing capability, where Watson-style technologies utilizing natural language processing and hypothesis-generating and adaptation and learning systems virtually reinvent the IT future.

“We can remake parts of industries that have been untouched by IT in the past,” Rhodin concluded.

Impressions From SXSW 2012: “Conversational Commerce” with Opus Research’ Dan Miller

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If you want to better understand the looming intersection between voice recognition and artificial intelligence, you don’t want to talk to HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” or even IBM’s Watson.

You want to speak with Opus Research analyst and co-founder, Dan Miller, which is precisely what Scott Laningham and I did recently at SXSW Interactive 2012.

Dan has spent his 20+ year career focused on marketing, business development, and corporate strategy for telecom service providers, computer manufacturers, and application software developers.

He founded Opus Research in 1985, and helped define the Conversational Access Technologies marketplace by authoring scores of reports, advisories, and newsletters addressing business opportunities that reside where automated speech leverages Web services, mobility, and enterprise software infrastructure.

If you’re thinking about things like Siri, or voice biometrics identification, or the opportunity that your voice response unit has for automating marketing touches, then Dan’s your man.

We spent a good 10 minutes talking with Dan about the idea behind “conversational commerce,”  and how important user authentication becomes in a world where the professional and personal are increasingly intertwined, and where IT staffs everywhere are suddenly confronted with new requirements brought about by the “BYOD” (Bring Your Own Device) movement into the enterprise.

Personalizing Cancer Treatment

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I hate cancer.  I really hate it.

I mean really.  Really really really.

I’ve lost more friends and family to cancer than I care to count.  I’ve lost an uncle to cancer. My two aunts. My grandfather.  My grandmother.

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IBM's Watson technology is being put to new use in personalizing cancer treatments in a partnership with world-renowned cancer treatment provider, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

In the last year, I’ve lost two good friends, and another one before them, several years ago, all wayyy too early (early 30s to mid 40s).

I hate cancer.

So I was pretty stoked about our announcement yesterday where my virtual brother, as Scott and I recently joked with Watson GM Manoj Saxena, is getting another form of unemployment.

First, there was Watson’s gig at Wellpoint, helping doctors with diagnoses.  Then we learned Watson was heading to work at Citibank to help out on Wall Street.

Now Watson is being put to use at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in an effort to help oncologists obtain detailed diagnostic and treatment options based on updated research that will help them decide how best to care for an individual patient.

MSKCC’s world-renowned oncologists will assist in developing IBM Watson to use a patient’s medical information and synthesize a vast array of continuously updated and vetted treatment guidelines, published research and insights gleaned from the deep experience of MSKCC clinicians to provide those individualized recommendations to doctors. It will also help provide users with a detailed record of the data and evidence used to reach the recommendations?

You can learn more about this new evidence-based approach to cancer treatment in the video below.


Oncology treatment is a complex arena, and yet cancers are the second most common cause of death in the U.S., second only to heart disease.

In fact, the American Cancer Society projects that 1.6 million new cancer cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year with outcomes varying wildly across the country.

Cancer isn’t a single disease with one footprint of cause, but rather, with some having hundreds of sub-types, each with a different genetic fingerprint.

Significant discoveries in molecular biology and genetics in the past two decades have delivered new insights into cancer biology and strategies for targeting specific molecular alterations in tumors. But in the process, these advances have also ratcheted up the complexity of diagnosing and treating each case.

“This comprehensive, evidence-based approach will profoundly enhance cancer care by accelerating the dissemination of practice-changing research at an unprecedented pace,” said Dr. Mark G. Kris, Chief, Thoracic Oncology Service at MSKCC and one of the clinicians leading the development effort. He noted that 85 percent of patients with cancer are not treated at specialized medical centers and it can take years for the latest developments in oncology to reach all practice settings.

IBM: Helping To Shape The Future Of Medicine

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So I’m curious, anybody out there been to see a doctor recently?

Do you sometimes wonder if you stepped back in time? Filling out the same paperwork over and over and over…and over again?

My own general practitioner just basically kicked me out of his practice — he’s asking for an upfront fee once a year for a special service he’s offering to try and offer “better service” to his clients.

And come to think, all I wanted was a check up once in a while and somewhere to go when the nasty flu hits.

Well, fifty years after IBM and Akron Children’s Hospital launched an ambitious project to build the first computer-based patient records system, why am I not surprised to find that only one percent of hospitals are using electronic records to their full potential — this according to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society.

Sure, there are a host of issues to address in dealing with such records, not the least of which are security, privacy, and access. But while we’re debating these pros and cons, an increase of chronic diseases and aging populations around the globe has increased the pressure on healthcare providers to operate more efficiently while providing better care.

Hence, my GP kicking me out of his office unless I’m prepared to pay a $1,600/year membership for his practice (a fee NOT covered by any insurance).

Check out this blog post to read how the CIO of Akron Children’s Hospital explains how overcoming the challenges that confronted healthcare providers a half-century ago remains an elusive goal even today.

How IBM Is Helping

IBM is helping hospitals, insurance companies and healthcare providers use digital information and electronic records to improve patient care through a variety of means. While transforming healthcare is a complex challenge, the hard work of creating a more effective, sustainable system that delivers better service and value to patients has begun.

As mentioned already, and per Tom Ogg’s blog post, global healthcare transformation depends on universal adoption of electronic health records, which are the basic building blocks of healthcare efficiency. IBM has a long history of creating and connecting systems to share patient information.

Health analytics are also going to play a central role in driving real change in the healthcare system by ushering in a new age of smarter decision-making. Healthcare organizations can use analytics to publish metrics on how hospitals are performing; create scorecards for enabling doctors to help chronic patients get better; and change behavior to help doctors and nurses make more intelligent and informed decisions.

IBM also brings deep expertise in applying, integrating and maintaining complex systems. That is coupled with our broad expertise in life sciences, bioinformatics and the full spectrum of healthcare disciplines. Emerging technologies like Watson could further IBM’s ability to help physicians and nurses identify the most effective treatment options for patients and enable new healthcare innovations.

You can learn more about some of these new capabilities in this short video in which IBM healthcare experts Bill Rollow and Lorraine Fernandez explain both the economic and patient benefits of creating a more “horizontal” electronic health information system.

IBM SmartCamp Global Finals: IBM’s Manoj Saxena Outlines The Commercial Opportunity Of Watson

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When it comes to being an entrepreneur, IBM’s general manager for its Watson Solutions group has been there, done that, and got the t-shirt.  Twice.

IBM Watson GM Manoj Saxena explains to the IBM SmartCamp finalists the commercial opportunity IBM's Watson technology presents to the world, even as he shares his own unique experiences as an entrepreneur.

When Manoj hit the stage at this afternoon’s IBM SmartCamp Global Finals in San Francisco to explain why he’s back at a big company like IBM, he started with his own start in mind.

Though he’s been with IBM for five years, and had an early background in corporate America at 3M, he started his own company in 1998 (Exterprise), which was acquired in 2001 before he started another company, Webify, which was later acquired by IBM.

One of the reasons he has since stayed at IBM, Manoj explains, is that “it’s the place to be if you want to have impact and change the world.”

He continued: “As you grow older, you start to understand what your core competence is, and mine is converting PowerPoints to products to profits.”

Manoj explained how startup culture and reality has changed dramatically from the dot com boom to present times.  In the past, you would build it and they would come, and it was all about eyeballs, traffic, and the amount of money raised as a badge of honor.

Today, if they come, you can then go build it, but you’d be well advised to validate THEN scale, and that actual revenues are the path to profitability.  Moreover, it’s advisable to take as little money up front as possible, so that you can focus on building value, a business, and not just a startup.

Ultimately, Manoj explained, companies are bought, not sold, and if you focus on building a business around a greater purpose, the riches will come.

He then turned to Watson, and the role the Watson technology is playing as IBM works to build a smarter planet.

Watson, Manoj explained, was a part of an IBM research project that followed in the spirit of the Deep Blue/Kasparov chess match of 1997, but that this time around, more focus was put on the commercialization of the technology.

What made Watson so unique was that not only is it smart at answering questions, but also that it can process and analyze 200 million pages in three seconds. The business implications of such a capability in our emerging data-drowning environment are critical. There are now 2 billion people on the Web, and “businesses on a smarter planet where people are dying of thirst in an ocean of data.”

So, Watson has been geared towards some select industries initially, namely healthcare and financial services, with others yet to come.

On the healthcare front, Manoj revealed some startling statistics. One in five diagnoses today are estimated to be inaccurate or incomplete, and there are 1.5 million errors in the way medication are prescribed, delivered, and taken in the U.S. alone each year.

And yet 81% of physicians report spending five hours or less per month reading medical journals, even as medical information doubles every five years.

Which is where Dr. Watson’s technology can help doctors with their diagnoses.  Not to replace doctors, but to help them winnow down to the most likely diagnosis based on Watson’s ability to rapidly analyze millions of likely scenarios and generate and evaluate those hypotheses to identify the “best” outcome.

As Manoj suggested, think of it as a navigation system for doctors.

Written by turbotodd

February 2, 2012 at 11:48 pm

IBM SmartCamp Finalist Profile: Skin Scan — Putting Some Skin In The iPhone App Game

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Sometimes you look at a mobile app for your iPhone and your Android, and you wonder, how in the world did they come up with that?

Victor Anastasiu, CEO of IBM SmartCamp finalist Skin Scan, has been an active contributor to the startup incubation scene in Bucharest, Romania.

That’s what Victor Anastasiu, CEO of Skin Scan, and his associate Mircea Popa, did once while sitting in Anastasiu’s living room in Bucharest a year ago, where they were chatting and having a beer.

They were discussing potential business ideas, and the idea of applying fractal geometry to the problem of skin cancer came up.

Hey, it’s just conversation, right?

Anastasiu explains that though there wasn’t a huge culture of entrepreneurship in Bucharest, he was a co-founder of an incubator hubb there called “Bucharest Hubb,” despite there being little access to the international entrepreneurial scene.

As they brainstormed and started to build an application that uses a mathematical algorithm to calculate the fractal dimension of a mole and surrounding skin, then build a structural map that reveals the different growth patterns of the tissues involved, they knew they had to find a platform that could be effective.

The iPhone was the perfect diagnosis, as it was much more homogeneous than the Android, and the app was perfectly suited to use the iPhone camera.

If Skin Scan processes the map and sees the mole has any abnormal development, it will alert the user to a needed medical visit.

SkinScan’s accuracy rate is currently at 70%, matching up to the average dermatologists’ diagnosis and suggesting that IBM’s own Dr. “Watson” could soon face some diagnostic competition in the healthcare realm.

Written by turbotodd

February 2, 2012 at 6:02 pm

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