A huge win for artificial intelligence … but what does it mean for humans?

“I will take an assistant that is that fast and that powerful and that tireless any time,” he said. “This is going to be something that 10 years from now will be a completely accepted way that we wind up practicing.”

Watson could be a boon for IBM, the world’s biggest computer services company, if it works as promised in the real world. IBM makes a mint on “analytics” software that helps companies mine their data and predict future trends, such as shopping patterns at a retailer, for instance.

Watson currently runs on 10 racks of IBM servers, but computing power generally doubles every two years, so the amount of hardware needed to run the same program soon will be significantly less. And the program can be tweaked to run slower, or scan less information, to make the program easier to deploy in a university or business setting.

IBM hasn’t disclosed prices for the commercial sale of Watson, nor details of the financial arrangements with the hospitals.

Laura Ascione