IBM Touts 'Watson' Supercomputer for the Health-Care Industry

Tickers in this article: IBM WLP

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- IBM(IBM) achieved a feat two years ago when the tech giant's Watson supercomputer beat two human champions in the Jeopardy TV quiz. Now keen to bring high-end computing to the corporate masses, IBM unveiled the first commercial Watson-based technologies on Friday.

The company picked the lucrative health-care sector as the launch pad for this effort, teaming up with health-insurance firm WellPoint(WLP) and New York's prestigious Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Care Center.

"We chose health care as a starting point," said Manoj Saxena, general manager of IBM's Watson Solutions, during the New York launch event. "We believe it's ready for transformation in the context of big data and analytics -- we believe that Watson will change the way that medicine is taught, practiced and paid for."

IBM has been working closely with WellPoint and Memorial Sloan Kettering to "teach" Watson how to process and analyze clinical data, specifically around cancer care. The supercomputer has already ingested more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, according to Big Blue, as well as 2 million pages of text from clinical oncology trials.

WellPoint has used Watson to build technology for streamlining the review processes between a patient's physicians and their health plan, which it says will speed up approvals.

"By the end of the year, 50% of our nurses will be using Watson," WellPoint Executive Vice President Lori Leer said during a presentation at IBM's New York headquarters.

The Indianapolis-based firm also worked with IBM and Memorial Sloan-Kettering on Interactive Care Insights for Oncology, a cloud-based service that can help identify individual treatment options for cancer patients, starting with lung cancer.

IBM's Saxena noted that health care is a "$2 trillion industry," highlighting the market opportunity for IBM. The Armonk, New York-based firm, which recently posted robust fourth-quarter results, expects to generate $16 billion in analytics revenue by 2015.

Big Blue also discussed the broader potential for Watson on Friday. Saxena, for example, cited six "instances" of Watson being deployed in the past 12 months.

"We are using Watson beyond health care in financial services, and we have just signed up some telco customers -- you will see more of these announcements later in the year," he told TheStreet. "Watson is really well-suited for information-intensive industries such as insurance, health care, telecom and banking."

IBM shares rose 0.9% to $201.57 in Friday trading.

-- Written by James Rogers in New York

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