LifeLearn’s ‘Dr. Sofie’ Aims to Know All the Answers

A cognitive computing program powered by IBM’s Watson spits out answers to veterinary questions.

The Sofie computer program for veterinarians can be accessed from smartphones, mobile devices, laptops and desktop computers.

LifeLearn Inc.

Type “congestive,” “heart failure” and “cat” into a Google search engine and nearly 450,000 results pop up. Where does a veterinarian start clicking and which sources should she trust?

But ask Sofie, “What are the best treatments for congestive heart failure in a cat?” and the computer program returns what co-developer LifeLearn Inc. said are precise, evidence-based answers pulled from the Canadian company’s expansive database as well as from expert sources such as publishers Elsevier, Merck and Wiley and organizations like VetFolio.

Based on IBM Corp.’s Watson cognitive computing platform—remember Watson’s demolishing of “Jeopardy” show champions in 2011?—Sofie was constructed to understand natural human language rather than rely on keywords. The results it spills out through a password-protected website come from hundreds of thousands of pages of veterinary resources.

In beta testing for months, Sofie was rolled out publicly earlier this year. The technology industry took notice in January when Sofie was awarded two Everyday Health Awards for Innovation during the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Aberdeen Veterinary Clinic in Aberdeen, Md., was the first veterinary clinic to use Sofie.

“Instead of pulling out a few different texts and having them on my desk, I just have a few windows open on my desktop,” said practice owner Heidi L. Fritz, DVM, CVA.

She called Sofie “an innovative technology that will go a long way towards strengthening the collective intelligence of the veterinary industry.”

LifeLearn reported that more than 200 users across 57 veterinary hospitals were logged in to Sofie as of mid-May. The subscription price per practice for the remainder of 2015 is $699.

Sofie responds to direct questions within about five seconds, according to LifeLearn. The program will become more intelligent over time through the variety of questions asked, the resources added, and the observations and interpretations made by cognitive computing, the company added.

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