VA aims to expand artificial-intelligence research

When Facebook suggests a new friend for you, or Gmail shows you ads based on your email content, or Alexa or Siri understands your verbal command to do some chore in the house, that’s artificial intelligence at work.

Or, for a more dramatic example, think of driverless cars that read traffic and make lightning-fast decisions to stay on course and avoid accidents.

Basically, artificial intelligence (AI) means using computers to simulate human thinking. Computers will never be able to fully replicate the human mind in all its amazing nuance, speed, and complexity—at least most people hope not!—but scientists have made remarkable strides in teaching computers to handle tasks such as finding patterns in data, analyzing and weighing risk factors, choosing the best option from among many choices, predicting future events based on past ones, and solving problems.

Many familiar examples come from the business sector. But the technology is also enabling progress in government.

VA is putting AI to work in reducing Veterans’ waiting times for appointments. Another application is in suicide prevention: Through the REACH VET program, VA uses AI to scan medical records and look for signs of Vets at high risk for suicide. And remember IBM Watson, of “Jeopardy!” fame? The robot has been helping VA doctors interpret cancer lab results and suggest the best drugs.

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