A Healthy Dose of Analytics: From IBM Watson to Tricorders

By Michael Feldman

June 2, 2011

If you’ve been following the health care debate in the US, it’s become fairly clear that the current trajectory of medical costs will soon be unsustainable for the economy. The latest government figures has the average US health care spend per person at over $8,000, and is projected to top $13,000 by 2018. Whether the latest health care legislation will do much to curb these costs is debatable.

If that $13,000 per capita figure holds up, that means about 20 percent of the nation’s GDP will be spent on medical bills. Other developed nations are currently about twice as efficient as the US, but even there health care cost are outrunning incomes. Fortunately, economic forces that strong have a way of disrupting the status quo.

Probably the lowest hanging fruit for optimizing the health care sector is in information technology. Even though we think of medicine as a high-tech endeavor, it’s mostly based on 30-year-old IT infrastructure overlaid with a manual labor approach to data collection and analysis. Essentially we have a system using 20th century computing technology, but with 21st century wages.

Just going to a doctor’s office and filling out a medical history form (on paper!) for the 100th time should give you some idea of how antiquated the health care industry has become. It’s as if the Internet was never invented.

But it’s not just about your medical records ending up in isolated silos. The amount of data that can be applied to your health is actually growing by leaps and bounds. The results of medical research, genomic studies, and clinical drug trials are accumulating at an exponential rate. Like most sectors nowadays, health care revolves around data.

In general though, your health care provider doesn’t do anything with all this information since the analysis has to done by a time-constrained, high-paid specialist, i.e., your doctor. But that could soon change. The latest advanced analytics technologies are looking to mine these rich medical data repositories and transform the nature of health care forever. Not surprisingly, IT companies are lining up to get a piece of the action.

IBM, in particular, has been pushing its analytics story for all sorts of medical applications. Last week, the compay announced it was expanding its Dallas-based Health Analytics Solution Center with additional people and technology.

Part of this is about sliding the IBM Watson supercomputing technology into a medical setting. With it’s impressive Jeopardy performance under its belt, IBM is now applying HPC-type analytics to understand medical text. Specifically, they want to combine Watson’s smarts with voice recognition technology from Nuance Communications to connect doctors to their patients’ medical data via a handheld device like a tablet or smart phone. From the press release:

By using analytics to determine hidden meaning buried in medical records, pathology reports, images and comparative data, computers can extract relevant patient data and present it to physicians, ultimately leading to improved patient care.

Analytics vendor SAS is also in the game. In May, they unveiled a new Center for Health Analytics and Insights organization that is designed to apply advanced analytics across health care and life sciences. Although the specifics were a little thin, the group will focus on “evidence-based medicine, adaptive clinical research, cost mitigation and many aspects of customer intelligence.”

It’s not all about clinical care though. One of the most expensive undertakings of the health care industry is ensuring drug safety. Both the FDA and pharma have had some spectacular failures in this area, the most recent being Vioxx, a pain-relief drug that was pulled from the market in 2004 after it was discovered that it was causing strokes and heart attacks in some patients.

A recent study by the RAND Corporation suggests data mining can be used to find some of these dangerous drugs before they enter into widespread usage. RAND CTO Siddhartha Dalal and researcher Kanaka Shetty developed an algorithm to search the PubMed database to uncover these bad players. The software employed machine learning algorithms in order to provide the sophistication necessary to differentiate truly dangerous compounds from ones that only looked suspicious (false positives). According to the authors, the algorithm uncovered 54 percent of all detected FDA warnings using just the literature published before warnings were issued.

A more ambitious medical technology is envisioned by the X PRIZE Foundation, a non-profit devoted to encouraging revolutionary technologies. Recently they teamed with Qualcomm to come up with the Tricorder X PRIZE, offering a $10 million award to develop “a mobile solution that can diagnose patients better than or equal to a panel of board certified physicians.” In other words, make the Star Trek tricorder a reality.

The device is intended to bring together wireless sensors, cloud computing, and other technologies to perform the initial diagnosis, and direct them to a “real” doctor if the situation warrants. Presumably the cloud computing component will support the necessary data mining and expert system intelligence, while the tricorder itself would mostly act as the data collection interface and do some medical imaging perhaps. The X PRIZE Foundation will publish the specific design requirements later this year, with the competition expected to launch in 2012.

None of these solutions are being promoted as substitutes for doctors or other medical professionals. Inevitably though, if these technologies become established, these jobs will be very different. With powerful analytics available, doctors won’t have to memorize all the information about the biology, drugs, and medical procedures any more. In truth, they can’t even do that today; there is already far too much data, and it continues to expand.

In an analytics-supported health care system, medical practitioners will need to do less data collection and analysis and more meta-data analysis. Just as today, writers don’t need to know how to spell words (remember, 50 years ago a spell checker was a person, not a piece of software) doctors will not need to memorize which drugs are applicable to which diseases. And that means a lot fewer doctor and less supporting staff. Essentially we’ll be replacing very expensive PhD’s with very cheap computer cycles.

If that seems like a scary prospect, consider the more frightening scenario of a health care system that bypassed this technology and tried to burden medical practitioners with the data deluge. Also consider that without advanced analytics, the majority of the population will be burdened by the long-term costs of sub-standard medical care.

Beyond that, advanced analytics will also be involved in propelling other health care technology forward, including drug discovery, genomics, and the whole field of personalized medicine. Many of these advances will enable medical conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes to be prevented, which is a far less expensive proposition than treatment.

It’s reasonable to be optimistic here. Nature abhors a vacuum — in fact, any sort of stark discontinuity. Our problematic health care model will eventually be transformed by technologies that make economic sense. Advanced analytics is poised to be a big part of this.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

And So It Begins…Again – The FY19 Exascale Budget Rollout (and things look good)

February 23, 2018

On February 12, 2018, the Trump administration submitted its Fiscal Year 2019 (FY-19) budget to Congress. The good news for the U.S. exascale program is that the numbers look very good and the support appears to be stron Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with partner Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) in Germany. The ser Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Start-up Aims AI at Automated Tuning of Complex Systems

February 22, 2018

Today’s bigger, more complex, connected and intelligent systems have an exponentially higher number of connections, dependencies, interfaces, protocols and processing architectures that, if not optimized, will hamstrin Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Experience Memory & Storage Solutions that will Transform Your Data Performance

High performance computing (HPC) has revolutionized the way we harness insight, leading to a dramatic increase in both the size and complexity of HPC systems. Read more…

Do Cryptocurrencies Have a Part to Play in HPC?

February 22, 2018

It’s easy to be distracted by news from the US, China, and now the EU on the state of various exascale projects, but behind the vinyl-wrapped cabinets and well-groomed sales execs are an army of Excel-wielding PMO and Read more…

By Chris Downing

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Start-up Aims AI at Automated Tuning of Complex Systems

February 22, 2018

Today’s bigger, more complex, connected and intelligent systems have an exponentially higher number of connections, dependencies, interfaces, protocols and pr Read more…

By Doug Black

HOKUSAI’s BigWaterfall Cluster Extends RIKEN’s Supercomputing Performance

February 21, 2018

RIKEN, Japan’s largest comprehensive research institution, recently expanded the capacity and capabilities of its HOKUSAI supercomputer, a key resource manage Read more…

By Ken Strandberg

Neural Networking Shows Promise in Earthquake Monitoring

February 21, 2018

A team of Harvard University and MIT researchers report their new neural networking method for monitoring earthquakes is more accurate and orders of magnitude faster than traditional approaches. Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fluid HPC: How Extreme-Scale Computing Should Respond to Meltdown and Spectre

February 15, 2018

The Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities are proving difficult to fix, and initial experiments suggest security patches will cause significant performance penal Read more…

By Pete Beckman

Brookhaven Ramps Up Computing for National Security Effort

February 14, 2018

Last week, Dan Coats, the director of Director of National Intelligence for the U.S., warned the Senate Intelligence Committee that Russia was likely to meddle in the 2018 mid-term U.S. elections, much as it stands accused of doing in the 2016 Presidential election. Read more…

By John Russell

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tensors Come of Age: Why the AI Revolution Will Help HPC

November 13, 2017

Thirty years ago, parallel computing was coming of age. A bitter battle began between stalwart vector computing supporters and advocates of various approaches to parallel computing. IBM skeptic Alan Karp, reacting to announcements of nCUBE’s 1024-microprocessor system and Thinking Machines’ 65,536-element array, made a public $100 wager that no one could get a parallel speedup of over 200 on real HPC workloads. Read more…

By John Gustafson & Lenore Mullin

Flipping the Flops and Reading the Top500 Tea Leaves

November 13, 2017

The 50th edition of the Top500 list, the biannual publication of the world’s fastest supercomputers based on public Linpack benchmarking results, was released Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

SC17: Singularity Preps Version 3.0, Nears 1M Containers Served Daily

November 1, 2017

Just a few months ago about half a million jobs were being run daily using Singularity containers, the LBNL-founded container platform intended for HPC. That wa Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This