IBM Watson gave ‘unsafe and incorrect’ cancer treatment options

27 Jul 2018453 Views

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Despite receiving praise for its ability to determine cancer treatments, IBM Watson – the company’s AI doctor – also could have put lives in danger.

Artificial intelligence (AI) can only be as good as the people who trained it. In the case of IBM Watson, some medical experts believe a major oversight could have potentially threatened the lives of patients.

According to Stat (via Engadget), a group of clinicians using IBM Watson for Oncology found “multiple examples of unsafe and incorrect treatment recommendations” being made by the AI.

In one instance during testing, a 65-year-old patient with severe bleeding was diagnosed with a drug that may have led to a “severe or fatal haemorrhage”.

A report compiled by these oncologists said that the fault in the system was likely down to IBM engineers and the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Center, which helped develop the AI.

More specifically, those who designed the AI’s insight fed it hypothetical patient data and treatment recommendations used by MSK, rather than any actual patient records. This resulted in treatment recommendations that didn’t align with reality, potentially putting real patients at risk.

Strong words

In one reported instance, a doctor at Jupiter Medical Center in Florida using IBM Watson for Oncology reportedly went as far as to call the system “a piece of shit”.

However, the hospital is still using the system for treatment recommendations as a second opinion for oncologists.

These findings appear to contradict a report issued by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which found that in India, IBM Watson treatment options lined up with physicians’ recommendations 96pc of the time for lung cancer.

In response to this latest claim, IBM said that it has been working with hospitals and others using IBM Watson to improve its accuracy in the years ahead.

“We have learned and improved Watson Health based on continuous feedback from clients, new scientific evidence, and new cancers and treatment alternatives,” the company said.

“This includes 11 software releases for even better functionality during the past year, including national guidelines for cancers ranging from colon to liver cancer.”

Colm Gorey is a journalist with Siliconrepublic.com

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