IBM’s Watson Tackles Cancer

In an interview with Arik Hesseldahl, general manager of IBM’s Watson program Manoj Saxena:

Watson doesn’t make the decisions. It’s a physician’s assistant. But before it becomes that, it has a lot to learn. Out of the box, Watson has the knowledge of a first-year medical resident. That is where it’s at today. With Cedars-Sinai and Wellpoint, we’re going to teach it all about cancer during the next six months. We’re going to show it actual cases that were solved in the past. And over time, we’ll tweak and teach it, using things we already know.

From what Watson was able to accomplish in the game of Jeopardy, the eventual impact toward assisting in cancer treatments can be extraordinary.

I can only imagine a future where everyone has access to a personal Watson. On our smartphones and in the form of something Siri-like. I’m currently reading Start With No (iTunes affiliate link) by Jim Camp. This book puts win-win upside-down and I’ve already learned a great deal about negotiation and feel empowered. While thinking about a good example for a future smartphone accessible Watson, Camp’s example on pages 74-75 came to mind:

I’m thinking of another client, the proud and happy father of a premature baby girl born with a defective heart valve—a condition, the parents were told, that many premature babies are born with. Sometimes this valve can be induced to close with drugs, but if not, surgery is required. In the case of my client’s baby, the drugs failed. The doctors wanted to move her to another hospital for the required surgery, the hospital where the best pediatric thoracic surgeons practiced. The parents—my client and his wife—saw no reason for this move. The hospital their daughter was in had a state-of-the-art neonatal unit. In addition, there was an operating theater attached to the neonatal unit. They feared that transferring their daughter to another hospital was too much of a risk to take.

At this juncture Watson could be tasked to calculate the results for all thoracic surgeries involving a move to a different hospital, the success rate differences between the two hospitals based on all historical thoracic surgeries performed on babies about the same age, and all other relevant permutations that could aid the doctors and the parents in making the right decision for the baby. Wouldn’t that be wonderful?