Dr. Watson

Our class has talked extensively about the ethical means of cancer trials and what the future of cancer treatment looks like. We have also discussed the possibility of Artificial Intelligence changing our human world. In an excellent piece by 60 Minutes, those two topics converged.

IBM has poured 15 billion into creating “Watson”, an artificially intelligent computer that processes information at rapid speed and has been developed into one of the world’s most sophisticated technology. As shown in the 60 Minutes segment, 5 years ago Watson was put to the test on the game show Jeopardy. The machine used data put into to it from Wikipedia, newspapers, and other sources to verbally communicate the correct answers and beat out the human contestants. Watson has only gotten smarter since then, gaining the capability to process over 1 million books per minute. According to the 60 Minutes report by Chris Rose, Artificial Intelligence has advanced more in the past 5 years than in the previous 50 years combined. Image result for ibm watson

The medical applications for Watson have become the program’s most beneficial features. The UNC medical center has become reliant on Watson to help doctors make decisions for their patients Dr. Ned Sharpless told 60 Minutes. The board of researchers for the UNC MC have to read a ton of medical journals to stay up to date on the latest medical options for their patients. Sharpless estimates that nearly 8000 medical journals are produced every day, providing far more data than the group could possibly digest. Processing those journals is light work for Watson. IBM told 60 Minutes that it only took Watson a week to learn how to process, digest, and make recommendations based on medical literature.

In order to tell if Watson could truly help the doctors, Sharpless performed a study, as any true scientist does.

The Study:

The Center did an analysis of 1000 cancer patients. They had the medical center’s doctors diagnose the patients and come up with the best possible recommendations for their patients. With those same patients, Watson was ordered to come up with the best recommendations for the patients based on its knowledge. The patients were randomized and had varying severity and types of cancer.Image result for ibm watson

The Result:

The study found that Watson came to the same conclusion as 99% of the doctors. According to Sharpless, he found this to be a reason to keep faith in the capability of actual humans. However, for 30% of the patients (over 300), Watson recommended additional options that the doctors were not aware of. The information came from recent medical journals that Watson had processed, but the doctors did not get to in time.  This finding prompted the center to make Watson a key component of its research and care option process.

Anecdotal information:

In the 60 Minutes segment, a patient named Pam was asked about her experience with Watson. Pam was 66 years old and had tried many things to get rid of her cancer. Watson made a new recommendation for her based on a genetic mutation it had spotted. Pam believed that the computer had added some time to her life that she otherwise would not have had.

The 60 Minutes went on to discuss other AI applications in our world.

It is a scary thought knowing that a computer can be that smart and outperform humans that have dedicated their lives to cancer research. The study proves that while human intuition is good, it has flaws that are affecting our medical world. AI is expected to grow and have a serious impact on our lives. AI developers are already pushing the government to develop laws to control artificial intelligence before it becomes too advanced.


http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-artificial-intelligence-charlie-rose-robot-sophia/ – This was the sole source used in this blog post. All of the information from the study was demonstrated in the 60 Minutes segment on Artificial Intelligence.



1 thought on “Dr. Watson

  1. Hannah Margaret Mears

    I had absolutely no idea that this was even a thing. However, it did make me ask, Will robots take over more human jobs in the future? I mean if this machine has all of the answers then why do doctors even really need to know that much information? If we can simply tell a robot how we are feeling and they can give us solutions within minutes why would we wait weeks to schedule a doctor appointment? I know that logically thinking we can never truly get rid of patient/doctor interaction because robots can’t completely do everything but as far as industry goes, I think robots will start becoming more popular. I found an article that talks about robots potentially taking over most jobs within thirty years that you may want to take a look at. LINK This concept is intriguing to me and yet scary at the same time because I cannot picture myself walking into doctor’s office and speaking with a robot instead of a human. Hopefully, we do not become so reliant on robots that they start to take us over. I guess that poses another question… will robots take over the world one day??

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