IBM's Watson supercomputer turns from Jeopardy! to crunch scientific research data

By Danny Palmer
28 Aug 2014 View Comments
IBM Watson supercomputer

IBM's Watson supercomputer - known for winning US quiz show Jeopardy! - has been re-programmed to help scientific research by analysing big data in the cloud.

Watson Discovery Advisor is able to analyse data at a much faster rate than scientists, reducing the time needed to test scientific hypotheses and theories.

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Previously, the manual work involved in such efforts could mean scientists were working for days or months in order to test theories. 

The technology has already been harnessed by life sciences institute, the Baylor College of Medicine, to perform research into p53, a protein related to many cancers.

The results - which have been peer reviewed in order to confirm their accuracy - already suggest that IBM Watson could have a big role to play in scientific research in the future.

"On average, a scientist might read between one and five research papers on a good day," said Dr Olivier Lichtarge, the principal investigator and professor of molecular and human genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology at Baylor College of Medicine.

"To put this into perspective with p53, there are over 70,000 papers published on this protein. Even if I'm reading five papers a day, it could take me nearly 38 years to completely understand all of the research already available today on this protein," he continued.

"Watson has demonstrated the potential to accelerate the rate and the quality of breakthrough discoveries," Lichtarge added.

Mike Rhodin, senior vice president of IBM Watson Group, also welcomed the use of the supercomputer to perform cloud based big data research.

"We're entering an extraordinary age of data-driven discovery. Today's announcement is a natural extension of Watson's cognitive computing capability," he said.

"We're empowering researchers with a powerful tool which will help increase the impact of investments organisations make in R&D, leading to significant breakthroughs," said Rhodin.

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