InfoSphere Streams, in contrast, is based around a newer, alternative model known as stream computing. Information constantly flows into the software, where question-answering algorithms act like filters, pulling out answers from the information available at any particular moment.
That makes it possible to take on data that moves too fast to be written to hard disks, which are relatively sluggish, says Lipyeow Lim, a researcher at the University of Hawaii who previously worked at IBM’s TJ Watson laboratory. “As data comes in, you want to look at it only once, then let it go,” he says. InfoSphere Streams provides a kind of operating system for that approach, says Lim, sharing the work of implementing a particular program across many computers so the system as a whole can generate answers without committing any data to disk.
That enables the cluster of computers that make up Artemis to keep up with all the different data sources streaming in for different babies. “Monitoring one baby you could probably do with a traditional system and storage design,” says Lim. “The challenge comes when you want to monitor many of them.”
The same approach enabled Watson to answer questions fast enough to compete with human experts. As soon as it was provided with a new clue, many different natural language processing algorithms set to work in parallel. Their results streamed in to an analytics engine similar to that in InfoSphere Streams which reconciled the different answers and decided on Watson’s best response.
McGregor is taking advantage of Artemis’s capacity for large amounts of data to develop it into a kind of remote diagnosis resource that can serve neonatal ICUs around the world. “We have implemented a cloud version so that a women’s hospital in Rhode Island streams data to my lab over a secure Internet link,” she says. Two hospitals in China will connect their neonatal ICUs using this technology later this year.
Meanwhile, machines that more closely resemble the Watson that wowed Jeopardy! viewers are on their own, slower road to the hospital. IBM has begun collaborating with voice-recognition company Nuance to investigate how a Watson-like system that digests research literature, medical records, and doctor’s notes might advise clinicians.