Can a Computer Replace Your Doctor?

Meet Watson. He’s a supercomputer who can regularly beat skilled human contestants at Jeopardy — a feat that AI specialists say is one of the most difficult for a computer to master.

“I want to create a medical version of this,” [John Kelly, the head of I.B.M.’s research labs] adds. “A Watson M.D., if you will.” He imagines a hospital feeding Watson every new medical paper in existence, then having it answer questions during split-second emergency-room crises. “The problem right now is the procedures, the new procedures, the new medicines, the new capability is being generated faster than physicians can absorb on the front lines and it can be deployed.” He also envisions using Watson to produce virtual call centers, where the computer would talk directly to the customer and generally be the first line of defense, because, “as you’ve seen, this thing can answer a question faster and more accurately than most human beings.”

Full New York Times article here.


 “Watson” (apparently, taking up a great deal of space)
and its creator, IBM scientist Dave Ferrucci

Comments (11)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Stephen C. says:

    Watson is pretty impressive.

  2. Vicki says:

    When they can make one that looks like Data on Star Trek, I will start to get very worried.

  3. Larry C. says:

    Careful readers of this piece may have moticed that Watson doesn’t feel any remorse when he makes a mistake.

    No tears shed over the life that wasn’t saved.

  4. staticvars says:

    One catch here is that the answers to many medical questions are unknown, and the research itself is often conflicting.

  5. Devon Herrick says:

    Several years ago the newsletter Access to Energy, discussed how in the coming years mass spectrometry held the potential of rendering your doctor obsolete. Chemical analysis of blood chemistry, fecal material, saliva, breath, sweat, etc could identify everything you could possibly know about health status.

  6. Larry C. says:

    Devon, even if you have all the factual information there is to have about health status, that doesn’t tell you what to do next.

  7. Virginia says:

    This seems like a much better application of technology than a stuffed seal.

    I would bet that, given all available information, a computer would have a much better chance of giving a correct diagnosis. Imagine a computer that could quickly calculate the odds of all known diseases and then suggest a course treatment! It represents a huge protection against malpractice.

    And, if programmed correctly, it could eliminate those pesky biases toward over-treatment.

  8. Tom H. says:

    Remember, Virginia. In the Jeapordy game Watson someetimes gets confused and gives nonsensical answers. If you are on the operating table when that happens, the outcome may not be very good for you.

  9. Neil H. says:

    Can you sue Watson for malpractice? That’s actually not a trivial question.

    If Watson is the best doctor around and no one else can consistently perform better, maybe what ever he does is state of the art.

  10. Joe S. says:

    Neil, the problem is that Watson is indifferent to monetary rewards and penalties.

  11. alattia says:

    I was misdiagnosed for my illness and I had to spend months taking different medications that had nothing to do with my real illness, even today as I’m writing this I still feel not well, although my condition improved slightly after stop taking the wrong medication. I met doctors who told me frankly they don’t know, others were experimenting with my condition. I believe if a computerised doctor would analyse my condition it would draw information from the vast data available to it to reach a correct diagnosis. The human brain is too limited in its scope and capability, as the saying goes we’re only humans.