More on Unsafe Cancer Treatment Recommendations from Watson AI

Shannon Jennings writes that IBM may inadvertently have put the lives of thousand cancer afflicted people in danger by providing dangerous recommendations for their treatment. Their supercomputer ‘Watson’ has been continuously providing erroneous recommendations to the patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, which has dealt a huge blow to their claims of being cancer research’s future. The partnership of the Cancer Center with IBM started in 2012 when they took up the task of providing proper training to the supercomputer, in order to diagnose as well as treat patients. However, the recent revelations may have just caused IBM’s reputation to be somewhat tarnished.

IBM documents that were prepared last summer has confirmed this problem, mentioning how frequently the supercomputer had provided poor advice, for instance, a speculative situation where it suggested cancer patients facing severe bleeding to be administered drugs which may only aggravate the problem. The issue was also shared by Florida’s Jupiter Hospital doctors, who said that it was useless in most cases. These documents were revealed by IBM Watson’s outgoing chief of deputy health, Andrew Norden, which showed methodical issues too, adding to the customer dissatisfaction. The issues stemmed from the fact that whatever was being fed into the supercomputer as data was only hypothetical, instead of that obtained from real patients. Thus, there was no useful insight gained from the whole process. However, according to a spokesperson for IBM, the device was still in a learning phase, which points to the fact that the learning is an exercise in futility.

Meanwhile, scientists have discovered the reason for the rarity of cancer in elephants as opposed to humans, even though the giant mammal has 100 times as many cells as humans, which should ideally put it at more risk. The scientists have pinned down this situation, known as Peto’s Paradox, on the higher number of ‘TP53 gene’ in the mammal, which causes tumor suppression before it can grow and spread. Elephants have 40 such copies in their system, as compared to human beings’ two copies. This may provide elephants with a powerful mechanism to keep cancer at bay. This may help scientists in furthering researches as to how to prevent cancer in human beings.