Problems With Watson for Oncology

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Problems With Watson for Oncology

The AI is only as good as its data

By Working Nurse
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IBM’s Watson for Oncology has been hyped as an AI-driven revolution in cancer care. However, STAT News reports that IBM’s own internal documents warn of Watson making “unsafe and incorrect treatment recommendations” for cancer patients.

Missing the Mark

Watson for Oncology is the cancer care version of IBM’s much-ballyhooed “cognitive computing” technology. It’s supposed to provide data-driven insights on oncology care and treatment. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty claims Watson will “be able to address, diagnose and treat 80 percent of what causes 80 percent of the cancer in the world.” IBM documents obtained by STAT News present a less-favorable picture, showing examples of Watson for Oncology recommending inappropriate or even dangerous treatments, such as suggesting that a patient with severe bleeding receive a drug that can cause hemorrhaging.  Some of those recommendations may have been for hypothetical test cases, not real patients, but the documents also include some angry comments from doctors who’ve actually worked with the system. “We can’t use it for most cases,” complained one physician. IBM says the company is making ongoing improvements to Watson “based on continuous feedback from clients, new scientific evidence and new cancers and treatment alternatives.”

Not So Big Data?

While the popular image of Watson is of an AI that automatically processes vast amounts of patient and research data, critics warn that the system is limited to the data and training it’s given.  IBM Watson Health partnered with oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) to train Watson for Oncology, but translating patient records or cancer research into forms Watson can read is an ongoing challenge.  Often, hospitals that use the system must rely on nurses or other hospital employees to manually feed Watson the data it is to process. “[I]t’s not a magical box that does that stuff,” a former IBM Watson Health design researcher told Gizmodo in 2017. Trainers from MSKCC have also carefully curated Watson’s reading list of medical literature. Some institutions that use Watson say the system is still capable of useful insights, but another former IBM designer interviewed by Gizmodo calls IBM’s Watson hype “an ethical issue,” asserting that the expectations the company’s advertising has created “could not be supported by the product I know.”

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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