Dr. Watson - Come Here - I Need You

Watson will soon be diagnosing medical cases – and not just the everyday cases, either.

The next time you go to the doctor, you may be dealing with a supercomputer rather than a human. Watson, the groundbreaking artificial intelligence machine from IBM that took on chess champions and Jeopardy! contestants alike, is about to get its first real-world application in the healthcare sector. In partnership with health benefits company WellPoint, Watson will soon be diagnosing medical cases – and not just the everyday cases, either. The vision is for Watson to be working hand-in-surgical-glove with oncologists to diagnose and treat cancer in patients.

Watson's_avatar The WellPoint clinical trial, which could roll out as early as 2012, is exciting proof that supercomputing intelligence, when properly harnessed, can lead to revolutionary breakthroughs in complex fields like medicine. At a time when talk about reforming the healthcare system is primarily about the creation of digital health records, the integration of Watson into the healthcare industry could really shake things up. By some accounts, Watson is able to process as many as 200 million pages of medical information in seconds – giving it a number-crunching head start on doctors for diagnosing cases. In one test case cited by WellPoint, Watson was able to diagnose a rare form of an illness within seconds – a case that had left doctors baffled.

While having super-knowledgeable medical experts on call is exciting, it also raises several thorny issues. At what point – if ever - would you ask for a “second opinion” on your medical condition from a human doctor? Will “Watson” ever be included in the names of physicians included in your HMO listings? And, perhaps most importantly, can supercomputers ever provide the type of bedside manner that we are accustomed to in our human doctors?

Androidselectricsheep This last question has attracted much attention from medical practitioners and health industry thought leaders alike. Abraham Verghese, a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine as well as bestselling author, has been particularly outspoken about the inability of computers to provide the type of medical handholding that we are used to from human doctors. Verghese claims that the steady digitization of records and clinical data is reducing every patient to an "iPatient" – simply a set of digital 1’s and 0’s that can be calculated, crunched, and computed. Forget whether androids dream of digital sheep – can they take a digital Hippocratic Oath?

Given that the cost of healthcare is simply too high, as a society we will need to accept some compromises. Once the healthcare industry is fully digitized, supercomputers like Watson could result in a more cost-effective way to sift through the ever-growing amount of medical information and provide real-time medical analysis that could save lives. If Watson also results in a significant improvement in patient treatment as well, it’s clear that the world of medicine will never be the same again. Right now, IBM envisions Watson supplementing – not actually replacing - doctors. But the time is coming when nurses across the nation will be saying, “Watson -- Come Here –- I Need You,” instead of turning to doctors whenever they need a sophisticated medical evaluation of a patient.

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

What’s behind our appetite for self-destruction?

Is it "perverseness," the "death drive," or something else?

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash
Mind & Brain

Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.

Keep reading Show less

Can the keto diet help treat depression? Here’s what the science says so far

A growing body of research shows promising signs that the keto diet might be able to improve mental health.

Photo: Public Domain
Mind & Brain
  • The keto diet is known to be an effective tool for weight loss, however its effects on mental health remain largely unclear.
  • Recent studies suggests that the keto diet might be an effective tool for treating depression, and clearing up so-called "brain fog," though scientists caution more research is necessary before it can be recommended as a treatment.
  • Any experiments with the keto diet are best done in conjunction with a doctor, considering some people face problems when transitioning to the low-carb diet.
Keep reading Show less

Douglas Rushkoff – It’s not the technology’s fault

It's up to us humans to re-humanize our world. An economy that prioritizes growth and profits over humanity has led to digital platforms that "strip the topsoil" of human behavior, whole industries, and the planet, giving less and less back. And only we can save us.

Think Again Podcasts
  • It's an all-hands-on-deck moment in the arc of civilization.
  • Everyone has a choice: Do you want to try to earn enough money to insulate yourself from the world you're creating— or do you want to make the world a place you don't have to insulate yourself from?
Keep reading Show less