Supercomputer Watson has taken its education to a new level. After obliterating the competition on the US famed game show Jeopardy in 2011, IBM’s Watson is now capable of performing diagnostics on human patients. MIT’s Andrew McAfee was quoted in an interview with Smart Planet saying, “Watson… basically went to med school after it won Jeopardy”.
Forbes Magazine reported in 2013 that, “Watson has analysed 605,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text, 25,000 training cases, and had the assist of 14,700 clinician hours fine-tuning its decision accuracy.”
This supercomputer makes complicated decisions without the variable of human emotion. Watson’s decisions are based upon medical evidence. It is accurate and consistent. It does not get tired, and it can store far more information than a human doctor could ever imagine. It is also omnipresent. Watson’s technology has the capability of being accessed and utilised from anywhere in the world as it is tied to the world wide web. Watson’s implications on the world and workforce of medicine are almost inconceivable. Let us address a few of them.
Eradication of human doctors
Healthcare workers should not entertain the thought of being pushed aside for Watson, at least not for now. The truth is that Watson computers are only currently being used in a handful of locations around the world. It is almost certain that those numbers will increase quickly, but the electronic substitute will not quickly replace live doctors.
Realistically, we should expect to see this genius in cooperative action with the world’s leading diagnosticians. By combining the accuracy and convenience of Watson’s knowledge with the structural knowledge of live practitioners, healthcare systems will save millions in the long run. Doctors will not have to miss out on cutting edge medical findings, because Watson’s technology will keep up with the leading published medical information all over the world within seconds. The average human would have to read for an average of 29 hours per day to read through all the new information published each day. Watson can obtain this knowledge in seconds.
Margin for error
Hundreds of patients are misdiagnosed daily in our nation’s current healthcare system. There are many factors that play a part is the percentage of failed diagnosis, and Watson has proven efficient in avoiding unavoidable human error. A supercomputer does not get scared to diagnose a patient with a terminal illness. A supercomputer does not fear breaking the news to the family. It does not tire.
The human brain has been proven faulty in extremely stressful situations. Humans lose their ability to reason after so many hours of sleep deprivation, and Dr. Watson can help minimise this stress for the human workforce. Watson can work a 24-hour shift seven days a week. It is a revolutionary tool for our finest medical workers. Fearing Watson’s ability is not needed. Rather, the medical workforce should look forward to working in tandem with a very capable partner.
IBM’s Watson supercomputer does lack a few very important qualities that will keep human doctors in the profession for an indefinite future. A computer cannot build rapport. A computer cannot calm an irate patient, and a computer cannot yet perform the physical actions needed to care for a sick patient. These things should be considered job security for those working in the healthcare industry.
Sci-Fi comes to life
Overall, Watson’s existence is very exciting for the world of medicine. In the interest of doing the patient no harm, IBM’s star student is sure to accept no less than perfection. Watson’s diagnosis can save hundreds of thousands of lives. Before we fear what may change our world, maybe we should first consider the benefits of change.