IBM's Watson Illustrates Why Applying A.I. to Healthcare Is So Hard
About a decade ago. Ibm rolled out watson. One of the earliest artificial intelligence systems out. There watson was a big deal for ibm. You might remember that even went on and absolutely crushed the human competition it was a milestone in how we think about our relationship to computers and ibm wanted to take that technology and apply it to helping doctors diagnosed and cure cancer. But things didn't exactly happen that way and last week we reported that ibm was exploring a sale of its watson health unit. So what happened. And what does this tell us about the challenges of applying ai to healthcare for answers we turn to our digital science editor daniella hernandez hate mail. Thanks for joining me. Thanks for having me. So whereas watson now and what happened well i mean the struggles at ibm with watson. Been around for a little while. We reported in two thousand eighteen that the technology was really not getting the market share and adoption that it needed to make good on all the investments in all the acquisitions that ibm made in order to make watson a leader in the ai in healthcare field and so three years or so later it signals that you know the technology maybe wasn't working as well as they would have hoped. I think more. Broadly points to the fact that you know just having data or collaborations with leading scientists around the country. That just isn't enough and the reason is you know. Healthcare is complicated. So there's a lot of human issues at stake here. You know people do things differently. Like depending on which hospital you're at louisville depending on which doctor you're you're you're seeing but also the data in healthcare is messy for some of those same reasons you know you might input into a medical chart differently than me and for an i i might as well be two completely different things and so just that standardization of the information is really critical but also really hard and so when ibm started making these huge investments in watson they started buying up all these companies that had a lot of seemingly great data and the data might have been perfect but those data were basically styles from each other. They couldn't talk to each other and they never quite figured out how to meld them together. So they were cohesive data set of product. That really could make good on the promise that they that they saw. Fortunately has never materialized. And of course we should note here. That ibm says that watson has had some successes and that they're still believers in that technology we've been talking about. Ibm's new ceo. Arvind krishna on the show and following. He's been trying to of revitalize this legacy company how the sale of watson health fit into his efforts. Well i think one huge thing that has changed since the birth of watson. If you will is that you've had these other huge not legacy players come into the field. You've got google facebook amazon even microsoft right which you might consider a legacy company but they really rebranded themselves to. They weren't as big when watson. I came on the scene. And so now you've got this against storied legacy company competing with these new players. Who when they started making investments in. Ai were a lot more nimble and so they made investments in what at the time seemed like really experimental ai technology and now looking back like deep mind. Google investing hundreds of millions of dollars in that that technology just basically took over the world and ibm didn't really invest in that technology at the time and now is behind because all the talent is has been sucked into google facebook amazon apple And so they're they're behind.