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Artificial Intelligence: IBM’s Watson Project Suffers Backlash from Overhype

By Dick Weisinger

Artificial Intelligence has been improving by leaps and bounds with many examples of results that have been stunning. But like anything, AI has had setbacks too.

The IBM Watson project is one example of an AI project that was over-hyped, a project that has tried to tackle too much too soon. IBM had early successes with AI. It’s Deep Blue and Watson technologies proved to be superior to humans in competitions like chess and the game show Jeopardy. IBM then announced that they were re-positioning Watson from a novelty to an AI project with the target of improving cancer care. Despite a big budget and significant positive press for the project, a recent analysis of the results from the Watson cancer project are underwhelming.

The investigation was made by STAT and found that “Perhaps the most stunning overreach is in the company’s claim that Watson for Oncology, through artificial intelligence, can sift through reams of data to generate new insights and identify, as an IBM sales rep put it, ‘even new approaches’ to cancer care… While Watson became a household name by winning the TV game show ‘Jeopardy!’, its programming is akin to a different game-playing machine: the Mechanical Turk, a chess-playing robot of the 1700s, which dazzled audiences but hid a secret — a human operator shielded inside. In the case of Watson for Oncology, those human operators are a couple dozen physicians at a single, though highly respected, U.S. hospital: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. Doctors there are empowered to input their own recommendations into Watson, even when the evidence supporting those recommendations is thin.”

Peter Greulich, a former IBM brand manager, said that “IBM ought to quit trying to cure cancer. They turned the marketing engine loose without controlling how to build and construct a product.”

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