Currently showing: Funding longer lives > Health/medicine

08 May 13 11:15

Successful medical diagnoses as well as appropriate treatment decisions are definitely two of the most important determinants of future longevity patterns. Some argue that due to the vast amount of medical information available to medical professionals, including medical journals publishing new treatments every day, increasing amounts of electronic medical record data becoming available and others, improper diagnosis and erroneous treatments can often occur. This does not sound unreasonable given the fact that physicians have limited time to keep up with all the novel advances and discoveries.

Artificial intelligence systems come to provide a solution to this problem by helping doctors make the most of the data available out there. An example of such a recently introduced system is the IBM Watson Healthcare artificial intelligence system which uses natural language capabilities, hypothesis generation and evidence-based learning to support medical professionals as they make decisions. The way Watson works is as follows: the physician poses a query to the system, describing symptoms and other related factors. The systems then starts breaking down the information into key pieces by incorporating treatment guidelines, electronic medical record data, doctor's notes, clinical studies and any other data which is available for analysis.

IBM Watson artificial intelligence system in collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and WellPoint health benefit company is already being used to help doctors to keep up with the fast-changing medical research on cancer. The attached video is a short demo of how IBM Watson works in Oncology Diagnosis and Treatment.

Some describe this system as a "medical genius that is going to revolutionize medicine" and even believe that "5 years from now Watson will be everywhere, the way we do Google now we could do Watson".

But a few questions remain:
(1) Can an algorithm be complex enough to mimic the thought process that physicians have?
(2) Can it really offer the "best treatment" for really complex cancer cases?
(3) What about the fact that many doctors may adopt Watson's recommendations without any critical thinking?

IBM Watson Demo: Oncology Diagnosis and Treatment (2 min.)

The IBM Watson Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment Adviser demo was created in close collaboration with Memorial Sloan Kettering, one of the world's preeminent ca...

Category: Funding longer lives: Health/medicine

1 Comment

Alicia Montoya - 17 May 2013, 7:55 a.m.

I guess it depends on how the system makes assumptions and how these are presented to the doctors. As a consumer, I feel it’s fantastic that we have so much data at our fingertips. The fact that IBM Watson presents that data efficiently to doctors is great. However, if it were to make assumptions and deductions which limit the data the doctors get to see, that, in my view, could impair their judgement. However, having watched the video, it sounds like they’ve taken lots of steps to provide the doctors with all the flexibility they need: It provides them with the evidence from thousands of clinical records, offering statistically-proven successful treatment recommendations while still enabling doctors to dive in and out of the sources so as to make their own call. Being able to add new data to the system sounds like a great feature so as to accommodate for individual case specificities is a very reassuring feature.

The question is, what does that do to doctors’ thinking? Would a doctor using Watson feel compelled to question the recommended treatments? Or would the comfort of pre-crunched data and suggestions impair a doctor’s ability to reason through the issue and let reason (and professional experience) guide his thinking? I guess what I’m ultimately asking is: Does AI make us mentally lazy? Or does it allow us to perform better by letting us concentrate on creative problem solving without wasting time on data gathering and crunching?

This article concludes that technology can both make us both smarter and more stupid, and the choice is up to us. So I guess we need to train our next generations of doctors on how to use ICT efficiently, while retaining critical thinking skills. Easier said than done?

If you would like to leave a comment, please, log in.