Today it seems like the future detailed in science fiction novels over the last century is finally becoming a reality. With Google’s self-driving car, the advent of smart watches, and the impressive growth of the IoT industry, it seems we’re only a Mars colonization away from being in a real-world episode of “The Jetsons.”

To add to the list of futuristic tech that’s made its debut over the last decade or so is artificial intelligence (AI). And while luckily today’s AI hasn’t yet taken the form of humanoid robots hell-bent on destroying the human race—as we saw in Will Smith’s 2004 sci-fi thriller “I, Robot”—it instead is being used to better the healthcare industry, and eventually will be used to tackle some of societies biggest issues.

Simply put, AI is the result of supercomputers that have been programmed to rapidly analyze big data and natural language input—think Apple’s Siri when you ask, “What will the weather be today?”—to produce intelligent conclusions that can provide actionable steps to solving a problem.

AI isn’t only used in human-to-device voice interactions. Rather, many smartphone and mobile device users interact with some form of AI every day; for instance, Google uses AI to tell you where you parked when you didn’t even ask, or how GPS apps can update you on traffic accidents in real time.

However, the AI functions that we use every day (that often go unnoticed) barely do justice to what tech developers, engineers and computer scientists have been able to do with this still-new technology. The best example of AI and what it can do today can be found in IBM’s Watson.

You may already be familiar with Watson and remember it from when it beat two of Jeopardy’s top champions of all time in February 2011. As host Alex Trebek explained during the three-day IBM Jeopardy challenge, Watson is a supercomputer capable of harnessing the power of 2,800 computers linked together in a superfast network that runs on 15 trillion bytes of memory.

With that much computing power, engineers at IBM don’t even refer to Watson as AI but rather use the term “cognitive computing.” As Watson is further developed, its ability to learn in the same capacity as any human will grow. With this ability, Watson has been tasked with and is working on solving some of medicines biggest problems, primarily chronic care and cancer.

Oftentimes, the biggest barrier between a healthcare provider and his or her patient is communication. It can be difficult at times for doctors to explain complex health problems or drive home the importance of a particular treatment to a patient. The ability to effectively communicate with patients is known in the healthcare industry as “bedside manner” and it’s similar to how one would build rapport with a new or potential client in a business setting.

With the power of AI like Watson, healthcare providers can process emails, social media posts, survey responses and other personal data to gain insights on a patient in a matter of seconds. In doing so, doctors can gain greater perspective on their patients even if they’ve never met. This not only sets a patient up to receive a higher level of care but it also makes communication easier and, therefore, can make treatment for chronic care more effective.

Another area where Watson, in particular, is changing the healthcare game for providers is in its ability to work with doctors in recommending cancer treatment options, and reviewing and authorizing treatments as well as other health insurance claims. By leveraging Watson, doctors can quickly gain analysis into mountains of data that often go into making difficult decisions for cancer treatments and be assured, therefore, that their patients are getting the highest-level quality care available, all while freeing up their valuable time.

The hospital and doctor’s office, however, aren’t the only two places where AI is changing healthcare for patients. As healthcare technology approaches its third wave of IT adoption, the focus has shifted from patient operating and recovery rooms to the patients themselves. Given Watson’s unparalleled ability to crunch data and make sense of seemingly disparate streams of information, app developers are now using AI like Watson to create healthcare mobile apps. These apps often work in collaboration with wearable technology that allows doctors to see in real time the effects of their treatments, whether patients are following treatment plans, and any issues that left untended might require a future hospitalization or doctor’s visit.

IBM has essentially set Watson up to succeed in this space, partnering with Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Medtronic and, most recently, CVS Health in its “Watson Health” project. These partnerships will bear fruit in app stores across mobile devices, and help companies like CVS improve their already popular mobile offerings.

For those who are unable to partner with IBM’s Watson, much can still be gained from entering the mobile app space. As McKinsey & Company recently outlined in its article “Healthcare’s Digital Future,” there is a real hunger for new mobile technology such as mobile apps across all healthcare sectors around the world. The key to being successful at developing apps, McKinsey argues, is identifying the needs of the patients first, and building applications second.

Once you’ve laid the groundwork, consider the difficulties in developing a mobile application. If you have any questions about the process or want to learn about how a trusted third-party vendor like AAJ can help get you to where you need to be for this third wave of IT adoption in healthcare, click here.