With Q, Whither Watson?

January 20, 2019

It was a trying summer for IBM’s Watson as its Oncology software received some harsh criticism. Will new leadership improve the program? We learn IBM replaced Watson Health’s former head, Deborah DiSanzo, with John Kelly, previously their senior V.P. of Cognitive Solutions and Research, from Computerworld’s article, “Did IBM Overhype Watson Health’s AI Promise?” We would say the answer to that rhetorical question is, you bet!

Writer Lucas Mearian describes the troublesome July report published in Stat News. That report revealed that Watson Oncology, which is being used in several real-life healthcare facilities, had recommended “unsafe and incorrect” treatments for hypothetical patients. The Computerworld article touches on the company’s defense (or denial, depending on who you listen to), as well as covering some early problems that plagued the program. See the piece for those details. We are reminded that it takes time to fully train machine learning software, and told the AI has simply not had enough time or quality data to meet the hype generated by the sales team. Not yet.

The article closes with a look ahead, citing IBM’s relatively recent purchases of healthcare data analytics-firm Explorys, patient communications company Phytel, and Truven Health Analytics. Quoting Cynthia Burghard of IDC Health Insights, Mearian writes:

Upon completing all three acquisitions, IBM boasted its Watson Health Cloud housed “one of the world’s largest and most diverse collections of health-related data, representing an aggregate of approximately 300 million patient lives acquired from three companies. They all in their own right, before they were acquired, were very successful companies and had good, strong, loyal client bases and were plugging along.”… In late October, IBM announced plans to seed its new hybrid cloud model for Watson by first moving data from insurance payer systems. For that, Truven will be key. Once payer data is moved to the hybrid cloud, the electronic medical records (EMRs) acquired through the Explorys acquisition will follow, Kelly said.

IBM is not the first company to have its sales team outrun its developers, with an IBM quantum computer ready for prime time, what happens when one combines the two?

One possible answer is more marketing.

Cynthia Murrell, January 20, 2019

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