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IBM officials state that artificial intelligence could democratize healthcare

IBM officials at Health Datapalooza weren’t afraid to make bold statements. According to them, artificial intelligence tools will augment physicians’ jobs and one day be able to provide the highest level of care in places as far as rural China.

IBM officials weren’t holding back when sharing their vision for artificial intelligence at the annual Health Datapalooza. The real potential of artificial and cognitive intelligence is the ability to level the playing field, states Jose Morey, MD, senior medical scientist, IBM Watson research. At one point, it could mean delivering high quality care to the most remote areas of the world. And according to IBM, this isn’t all: artificial intelligence could be the perfect assistant to surgeons.

Analysing data quickly

The world of science and medicine is ever changing. Thousands of new journals are being published every day, making it impossible for surgeons to keep track of state of the art data. They might miss information about clinical trials, treatment regiments and other medical literature. Just adding more data to the mix thus isn’t going to make the difference, states Amar Das, MD, director of IBM’s healthcare effectiveness research. What is needed, is a way to sort through data quickly and efficiently, making connections that humans don’t. Cognitive and artificial intelligence have that ability, according to the IBM officials.

Constantly developing

IBM is constantly developing Watson, says Jane Snowdon, director IBM Watson health partnerships. IBM is currently training Watson on different lexicons and domains, so the computer can further specialize in certain fields.

The supercomputer has also been tested on 1,000 patients. Not only did Watson agree with humans 99% of the time, it also offered suggestions about care pathways that clinicians had not thought of approximately 30% of the time. The computers clear advantage is its capability to analyse and store massive amounts of data, and translating that data into information relevant to a specific patient case.

Of course, IBM does have multiple motives in pushing artificial intelligence forward. However, that doesn’t make their statements any less true. Artificial intelligence could make a big difference in the world of medicine, with an emphasis on ‘could’. So far, we’ve only seen the beginning of the transition, and unless someone has a crystal ball, there is no way to know for sure whether artificial intelligence is going to be the changemaker.

Watson has been racking up an impressive resume though and is on the right track to enable doctors in their day-to-day practices. Morey simply states that while a computer could never have the empathy a human possesses, it could make doctors more efficient. On to a world where a human does what a human does best, and a computer what a computer does best.  

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