IBM’s Watson Moves From Jeopardy to Cancer Treatment

After delivering a proper thumping to Jeopardy champions Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)’s Watson impressed the world while proving itwasn’t infallible. While racking up points and showing its superiority, I remember it showing Jeopardy fans that is was equally capable of mind-boggling errors. In a Final Jeopardy round entitled “U.S. Cities” the contestants were asked something like, “Which single U.S. city’s airports are named after a WWII naval battle and a WWII admiral?” It was one of the rare occasions that I get the “answer” to Final Jeopardy immediately.

IBM's Watson Moves From Jeopardy to Cancer Treatment

While I can generally answer over 80 percent of the first two rounds, I generally only get the answer to Final Jeopardy every other day. Imagine my surprise when in a category entitled “U.S. Cities,” Watson’s answer was Toronto rather than Chicago. Nonetheless, Watson’s display was nothing short of inspiring. The programmers of Watson have now turned to cancer treatments and the results have been not only exceptional but useful.

“It’s going to be the ultimate in personalized medicine,” said Mark Kris, chief of Thoracic Oncology at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, “because it is going to be able to learn more facts about you than any one doctor or health-care system can, and can process them in a way that will ultimately be useful to your care.”

Watson Programmers Collected Cancer Data

Cognitive computing is paving the way for a new way of looking at cancer treatment. Over the last year, Watson’s programers have collected more than 2.5 million pages of cancer data, written text from medical journals, clinical trial research, and 1,500 case files. An amount of data that no doctor could not ever call upon in the manner that Watson can.

“It’s humanly impossible for the doctors to pull all of the medical records about pathology reports, family history, the most recent diseases and drugs, and to bring it together to the point of treatment,” said Manoj Saxena, International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM)’s general manager for Watson. “That’s where Watson is a decision-support system we believe will have breakthrough implications.”

“The chance to develop one system that virtually every doctor in the world can tap into and tap into research advances expertise from the top folks at Sloan Kettering and all over the country,” continued Mark Kris, ” It’s just an amazing opportunity.”

About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at