Wednesday, March 28, 2012

It's Elementary My Dear Watson

 HAL: Look Dave, I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over.  - 2001 A Space Odyssey [on Dave's return to the ship, after HAL has killed the rest of the crew]

I came across this article recently, about how the IBM supercomputer Watson was moving on from its dazzling stint on "Jeopardy!" to diagnosing cancer at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

While the concept of having a supercomputer helping some of the most talented doctors in the world treat cancer patients is an exciting prospect, it's also a bit disturbing to think that someday metal and bolts may usurp a doctor's unique insight in cancer care.


There are nuances in a patient's voice when describing symptoms, or realities in a patient's priorities (such as living long enough to see a child born) that simply "do not compute" when looked at as a sterile set of facts.

Already there is talk of having Watson go to bat for the insurance companies - which makes me even more wary of its place in the medical world and the level of care I might someday be restricted to based on a computer's logarithms rather than a doctor's intuition. Remember that CT and MRI scans all missed my cancer for years - it was my surgeon's gut that told her something wasn't right with my appendix (where my carcinoid was) that saved my life.

It's undeniable that for rare cancers like carcinoid Watson could be an unbelievable asset; but it's important to keep things in perspective and realize that this latest supercomputer is only a resource for experts to use and not an expert in its own right... otherwise Watson may just morph into HAL. And Dave, nobody wants that.

Read the Article: IBM's Watson Supercomputer Gets Job As Oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I wrote an article on my carcinoid blog about this too. How about this. "Dave I'm really here to help. You can trust me Daaaaave." :-) Here's the link, Tell me what you think. BTW, I just found your blog.