Watson's next feat? Curing cancer

IBM is now training Watson to be a cancer specialist. The idea is to use Watson’s increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence to find personalized treatments for every cancer patient by comparing disease and treatment histories, genetic data, scans and symptoms against the vast universe of medical knowledge.

Such precision targeting is possible to a limited extent, but it can take weeks of dedicated sleuthing by a team of researchers. Watson would be able to make this type of treatment recommendation in mere minutes…

Many physicians and academics in medicine have come to view Watson’s work with reservation, despite reassurances from IBM officials that they are trying not to replace humans but to help them do their jobs better.

“I think a lot of folks in medicine, quite frankly, tend to be afraid of technology like this,” said Iltifat Husain, an assistant professor at the Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Husain, who directs the mobile app curriculum at Wake Forest, agrees that computer systems like Watson will probably vastly improve patients’ quality of care. But he is emphatic that computers will never truly replace human doctors for the simple reason that the machines lack instinct and empathy.