AIF Blog

Can Artificial Intelligence Revolutionize Medicine?

Nov 02, 2017
Daniel Kraft and Deborah DiSanzo speak at Spotlight Health in June.
Can artificial intelligence (AI) revolutionize medicine and ultimately replace doctors? 
Now more than ever, doctors are relying heavily on machine-learning technologies like IBM Watson to mine repositories of health data, recognize trends, and respond with potential treatments.
Deborah DiSanzo, global general manager for IBM Watson Health, and Daniel Kraft, faculty chair of medicine at Singularity University, sat down with The Atlantic’s James Hamblin at Spotlight Health. Their discussion centered on the impact AI has on medicine. 
“Today, the average physician reads medical journals about four to five times a month,” Kraft says. With approximately 8,000 new medical research papers being published every day, doctors are struggling to keep up. 
But DiSanzo believes IBM Watson Health is the solution. The goal of Watson is to find solutions to patient care by surfacing massive amounts of personal and academic health data. Watson, a secure database, has the knowledge of 300 textbooks, 200 medical journals, and millions of patients’ electronic health records. It can also access various databases.
In 2016, Watson traveled to the University of Chapel Hill to test its accuracy. The cancer center shared 1,000 patient health records with various diagnoses with Watson. In 99 percent of the cases, Watson’s recommendations for treatments matched that of the oncologists at UNC. However, in 300 cases Watson found new medicines or treatments released between 2013 and 2015 — treatments the UNC oncologists were unaware of. 
Watson’s wealth of knowledge extends to areas like rural China and India where patients are suffering from a shortage of physicians. DiSanzo says Watson has the power to assist physicians in rural parts of the world to provide patients with the best possible treatments. 
“An oncologist in rural China now can have the knowledge that someone in New York City gets,” says DiSanzo, “Patients in rural India are getting the same treatment as I would if I were in downtown Boston.” 
IBM Watson Health’s main focus is researching medicines and treatments with the biggest impact, rather than suggesting more obscure treatments. 
But with more machines in health care, will the healing touch be lost? 
“It’s not just about the machine itself,” DiSanzo explains. “The best interactions (with patients) are between both the man and machine.” 

Written by Eliza Costas, Editorial Assistant, Aspen Ideas Festival