|Followup — |
A Reality Check for IBM’s AI Ambitions
' "However, most of the criticism of Watson, even from M.D. Anderson, doesn’t seem rooted in any particular flaw in the technology. Instead, it’s a reaction to IBM’s overly optimistic claims of how far along Watson would be by now. In fact, it still seems likely that Watson Health will be a leader in applying AI to health care’s woes. If Watson has not, as of yet, accomplished a great deal along those lines, one big reason is that it needs certain types of data to be “trained.” And in many cases such data is in very short supply or difficult to access. That’s not a problem unique to Watson. It’s a catch-22 facing the entire field of machine learning for health care.
Though the problem of missing and inaccessible data may slow Watson down, it may hurt IBM’s competitors more. That’s because the best bet for getting the data lies in close partnerships with large health-care organizations that tend to be technologically conservative. And one thing IBM still does very well in comparison to startups, or even giant rivals like Apple and Google, is gain the trust of executives and IT managers at big organizations. The specific problems with the M.D. Anderson project notwithstanding, IBM has a crucial advantage. It’s getting Watson inside a wide range of medical centers, health-care administration groups, and life-science companies, all of which are positioned to provide the critical data needed to shape AI’s future in medicine.
Will Watson eventually make a difference in improving health outcomes and lowering costs? Probably, says Stephen Kraus, a partner at the VC firm Bessemer Venture Partners who focuses on health care and has invested in AI health-care startups. “It’s all for real,” says Kraus. “This isn’t about putting out vaporware in order to boost stock prices.” But Kraus joins most experts in cautioning against unrealistic timelines or promises—some of which have come from IBM itself. “This is hard,” he says. “It’s not happening today, and it might not be happening in five years. And it’s not going to replace doctors.” '