IBM's Watson to help diagnose cancer

Elementary, my dear Watson! – IBM’s Watson to become Dr. Watson

IBM’s Watson supercomputer has had a few moments in the spotlight over recent years, most notably perhaps when it beat the human competition in the US game show Jeopardy, but it’s much more than a quiz champion.  It is now going to be used to help diagnose symptoms that could be linked to Cancer.  Watson is designed to replicate cognitive functions, focussing mainly on interpreting language and providing well-founded responses; but what makes Watson different is that it’s knowledge isn’t native to itself, it has to learn it through scouring multiple resources; similar to how many of you would if you were seeking an answer yourself.

IBM started working on Watson back in 2006.   The main focus for the creators of  IBM Watson were:

  • Natural language processing
  • Hypothesis generation
  • Evidence-based learning

These three principals were successfully implemented in the Jeopardy ‘experiment’ and have since been refined and utilised in other areas.  IBM has recently announced that it is working with Memorial Sloan Kettering and WellPoint in putting IBM Watson to work in healthcare; more specifically in the diagnosis of Cancer in patients.

Dr.Watson to help the fight against cancer
Dr.Watson to help the fight against cancer

By assessing data from different resources sources, such as a patient’s medical history, test results, scans, medical journals, textbooks and documents, Watson will be able to quickly give a diagnosis. It will present its diagnosis to the patient’s doctor, providing relevant information about the patient and their medical history, as well as evidence as to why it deems that it is relevant.

Watson can also suggest other questions to ask the patient, with which it could then use the responses to further assess the diagnosis.  Additionally, Watson can suggest tests to carry out on the patient to help progress the patient’s care.  All suggestions and questions are based on reason, which again the doctor can look at to see why Watson came to the conclusion.

The results would, of course, need to be verified by a human doctor, but having all this relevant data presented to you is very brilliant and could potentially save a lot of time and effort for the persons involved.

For a more detailed insight as to what Watson could do in healthcare, check out the video below:

Using super-intelligent systems such as IBM Watson can truly enhance people’s lives, which is why I felt it relevant to this blog.  The risks of building a reliance on such systems could be great, especially when we are putting people’s lives in their hands, however with careful progression and continued development and enhancement of these systems, the risks will more than likely outweigh the benefits.

Let me know your thoughts on how you would want to see Watson enhance your lives!

For more information, check out the below sources: