IBM pitched Watson as a revolution in cancer care. It's nowhere close

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Breathlessly promoting its signature brand -- Watson -- IBM sought to capture the world's imagination, and it quickly zeroed in on a high-profile target: cancer. But three years after IBM began selling Watson to recommend the best cancer treatments to doctors around the world, a STAT investigation has found that the supercomputer isn't living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it. It is still struggling with the basic step of learning about different forms of cancer. Only a few dozen hospitals have adopted the system, which is a long way from IBM's goal of establishing dominance in a multibillion-dollar market. And at foreign hospitals, physicians complained its advice is biased toward American patients and methods of care. STAT examined Watson for Oncology's use, marketing, and performance in hospitals across the world, from South Korea to Slovakia to South Florida. Reporters interviewed dozens of doctors, IBM executives, artificial intelligence experts, and others familiar with the system's underlying technology and rollout. The interviews suggest that IBM, in its rush to bolster flagging revenue, unleashed a product without fully assessing the challenges of deploying it in hospitals globally. While it has emphatically marketed Watson for cancer care, IBM hasn't published any scientific papers demonstrating how the technology affects physicians and patients. As a result, its flaws are getting exposed on the front lines of care by doctors and researchers who say that the system, while promising in some respects, remains undeveloped. "Watson for Oncology is in their toddler stage, and we have to wait and actively engage, hopefully to help them grow healthy," said Dr. Taewoo Kang, a South Korean cancer specialist who has used the product. At its heart, Watson for Oncology uses the cloud-based supercomputer to digest massive amounts of data -- from doctor's notes to medical studies to clinical guidelines.


How Robots Are Changing the Way You See a Doctor

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The following feature is excerpted from TIME Artificial Intelligence: The Future of Humankind, available at retailers and at the Time Shop and Amazon. Medicine is both art and science. While any doctor will quickly credit her rigorous medical training in the nuts and bolts of how the human body works, she will just as adamantly school you on how virtually all of the decisions she makes--about how to diagnose disease and how best to treat it--are equally the product of some less tangible measures: her experience from previous patients; her cumulative years of watching and learning from patients, colleagues and the human body. Which is why the idea of introducing machines into medicine seems misguided at the very least, and also foolhardy. How can a robot, no matter how well-trained, take the place of a doctor?


How Robots Are Changing the Way You See a Doctor

TIME - Tech

The following feature is excerpted from TIME Artificial Intelligence: The Future of Humankind, available at retailers and at the Time Shop and Amazon. Medicine is both art and science. While any doctor will quickly credit her rigorous medical training in the nuts and bolts of how the human body works, she will just as adamantly school you on how virtually all of the decisions she makes--about how to diagnose disease and how best to treat it--are equally the product of some less tangible measures: her experience from previous patients; her cumulative years of watching and learning from patients, colleagues and the human body. Which is why the idea of introducing machines into medicine seems misguided at the very least, and also foolhardy. How can a robot, no matter how well-trained, take the place of a doctor?


How IBM Watson Overpromised and Underdelivered on AI Health Care

IEEE Spectrum Robotics

In 2014, IBM opened swanky new headquarters for its artificial intelligence division, known as IBM Watson. Inside the glassy tower in lower Manhattan, IBMers can bring prospective clients and visiting journalists into the "immersion room," which resembles a miniature planetarium. There, in the darkened space, visitors sit on swiveling stools while fancy graphics flash around the curved screens covering the walls. It's the closest you can get, IBMers sometimes say, to being inside Watson's electronic brain. One dazzling 2014 demonstration of Watson's brainpower showed off its potential to transform medicine using AI--a goal that IBM CEO Virginia Rometty often calls the company's moon shot. In the demo, Watson took a bizarre collection of patient symptoms and came up with a list of possible diagnoses, each annotated with Watson's confidence level and links to supporting medical literature. Within the comfortable confines of the dome, Watson never failed to impress: Its memory banks held knowledge of every rare disease, and its processors weren't susceptible to the kind of cognitive bias that can throw off doctors. It could crack a tough case in mere seconds. If Watson could bring that instant expertise to hospitals and clinics all around the world, it seemed possible that the AI could reduce diagnosis errors, optimize treatments, and even alleviate doctor shortages--not by replacing doctors but by helping them do their jobs faster and better.


A doctor's digital assistant

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Talking to WIRED before his speech at WIRED Health, Kyu Rhee, IBM's chief health officer, took from his pocket one of the iconic pieces of medical equipment: the stethoscope. The stethoscope is celebrating its 200th anniversary – the first, monaural version was created by the French doctor René Laennec. Despite technical advances – and the rise of other non-invasive techniques for internal examination – the stethoscope still means "doctor": according to a 2012 research paper, carrying a stethoscope makes a practitioner seem more trustworthy than any other piece of medical equipment. "It's amazing how medicine in some ways still leverages this piece of technology," said Rhee. "But I believe that in the next 200 years a cognitive system like Watson will be a part of every healthcare decision, for every stakeholder." IBM Watson's cognitive approach to computing absorbs data – structured and unstructured – and produces answers.