IBM Watson :: When marketing and reality collide

by Volker Weber

A fascinating and long read about IBM Watson

It was an audacious undertaking, even for one of the most storied American companies: With a single machine, IBM would tackle humanity’s most vexing diseases and revolutionize medicine.

Breathlessly promoting its signature brand - Watson - IBM sought to capture the world's imagination, and it quickly zeroed in on a high-profile target: cancer.

But three years after IBM began selling Watson to recommend the best cancer treatments to doctors around the world, a STAT investigation has found that the supercomputer isn’t living up to the lofty expectations IBM created for it. It is still struggling with the basic step of learning about different forms of cancer. Only a few dozen hospitals have adopted the system, which is a long way from IBM's goal of establishing dominance in a multibillion-dollar market. And at foreign hospitals, physicians complained its advice is biased toward American patients and methods of care.

I would think that there are different Watson products, where marketing and reality collide much harder.

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Comments

I am really upset to hear about this. Healthcare is beyond being funny and too important to try making money from it recklessly.

Hubert Stettner, 2017-09-09

I don‘t think there is or was any funny of reckless attempt to make money, but pretty serious investment and conviction to eventually succeed and get the proper return on that. I hope they still eventually succeed although it‘s hard to imagine a positive return in a reasonable timeframe. In any case humanity was advanced once more a little bit.

Martin Hiegl, 2017-09-09

I don‘t even understand anymore what IBM really does. Time for a CEO change.

Markus Dierker, 2017-09-09

Martin, I would love you to be right. I am among the first persons to be glad about e.g. improved cancer treatments. This is, why I was quite delighted when I heard about the idea first and also, why I am upset.

I am having a quite strict opinion about healthcare and profits. Profits need to be made, nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary, there needs to be money to be able to do R&D. But people should not be getting worse care than possible (or none at all), because of (missing) money. I know, this is quite naive of me, nevertheless it is the way it should be done (and it is usually done in Germany, IMO).

I spent long times in hospitals (not as a patient) and I can see so many things done right, but also many things going wrong. Not relevant infrastructure (buildings, furniture) tend to be in their final stages, sometimes. This can not be said about people or critical infrastructure, from my experience.

Now, why am I upset? I think, IBM is promising things, they can not deliver (yet). Despite knowing, that the product might not be ready, it gets sold and pushed for (corporate) political and, of course, financial reasons. Selling an unfinished product, lets say, in consumer electronics, is one thing, but in healthcare? This is just too important. And yes, I know, I am being naive. Still.

Hubert Stettner, 2017-09-09

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I explain difficult concepts in simple ways. For free, and for money. Clue procurement and bullshit detection.

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