Originally, IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in marshalling the flood of new medical information so as to enable better cancer care. Hundreds of medical papers are published each day. No one can read them all. So when a patient has cancer, a physician could tell Watson the details and Watson could dig through the papers and identify the relevant ones. It did not turn out to be that simple, according to STAT News:
…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.
The failure is not mainly that of AI:
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. Casey Ross and Ike Swetlitz, “IBM pitched its Watson supercomputer as a revolution in cancer care. It’s nowhere close” at STAT
Reality Check: Machine-centred health care is the AI equivalent of “If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor.”
See also: Too Big to Fail Safe? provides a warning example of what can happen when relying on artificial intelligence alone to make medical decisions. Hint: machines compute; they don’t think.