Watson vs. Humans

IBM’s Watson computer, which recently made an impressive showing on Jeopardy!, will next be tasked with helping clinicians in the healthcare environment. In a deal with Nuance Communications, Inc., Watson’s Deep Question Answering, Natural Language Processing, and Machine Learning capabilities will be combined with Nuance’s speech recognition and Clinical Language Understanding to address the increasingly complex demands of healthcare diagnostics. The IBM press release has more details (and lots of capitalized words) on the deal.

One of the hotter topics surrounding Watson’s dominant performance over the course of the three day demo was its (his?) spectacular failure in Final Jeopardy!. The category: US Cities; the answer: “Its largest airport was named for a World War II hero; its second largest, for a World War II battle.” Watson answered “What is Toronto?” IBM’s explanation suggests that Watson relies on statistical analysis for its reasoning and that it downgrades the category description in importance because in this game, they can be vague or downright tricky. But you and I would immediately recognize “US Cities” as a constrained set in which the answer must reside. Watson was confused further, IBM explained, because there are several “Torontos” in the US.

Oh-Oh! If you look at the map they provide showing the various cities in the US named Toronto, it is clear poor Watson must depend on what others tell him is true. As of this writing, the map (click on “What is Toronto?”) labels “Toronto, MO” as being in Illinois, and “Toronto, IL” as being in Missouri. I thought Watson was impressive, and I think IBM has made great strides. As Watson demonstrated, machines can make mistakes. As the map at IBM’s site demonstrates, humans make mistakes too. We just have to remember that at least for now, the only knowledge computers can learn, is what we offer them…

[Update February 21, 2011: Alas, IBM appears to have removed the map above from its website. Cached versions don’t link to the map anymore either…]

© 2011 Rod Piechowski, Inc. Consulting

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In the Clouds

One of the underlying assumptions in this blog, The Art of Medicine and Technology, is that we will continue to gather more data, hopefully learn from it, and use it to provide continually improved care. Most of this data will be gathered using electronic medical record systems and other information technology systems that are increasingly finding their way into physician practices and hospitals. In our day-to-day lives, we use all kinds of tools that store messages, documents, websites and photos on servers outside of our physical control. We’re growing increasingly dependent on services in the “cloud” of connectivity to store, maintain and move our information. In the field of medicine, the growth of EHRs, and their eventual connectivity as part of the Nationwide Healthcare Information Network (NHIN) will add new dimensions to this concept. What they are talking about moving around however, is data about patient care, quality reporting and payment for services. What about the “knowledge” we will gain from research done on data? » Continue reading “In the Clouds”

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Building a Great Team IV

Compassion
It’s hard to imagine that anyone could work in the healthcare field without having some degree of compassion for others. Yet, the reality of business, and continued pressure to do more with less for less, could no doubt squeeze the last bit of feeling from almost anyone. For our purposes though, I want to look at compassion as a component that complements the rest of the five traits I look for when building a team that must lead through systemic change. This trait:

  • Reduces the prevalence of “me first” in the workplace because people more clearly see the positions of others, and can more easily integrate other points of view into the re-engineering project;
  • Is likely to be found in people who consider the patient as the ultimate beneficiary of positive change through technical innovation, and they are less likely to toss aside “the patient comes first” as a tired slogan;
  • Should be a thread that runs throughout the fabric of an organization’s culture. Remember, it is culture that must really change in order to successfully convert from paper-based to paperless information exchange. Technology is just the tool;
  • Is especially desirable on a team when the status quo is broken, methods are in flux, and there is ambiguity in roles;
  • Builds trust;

Next, I will tie all of these traits together and discuss competence.

-Rod Piechowski

Copyright © 2010, Rod Piechowski, Inc., Consulting

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Timely Article on Data Sharing

Almost forgot to point out the interesting article in last Friday’s New York Times about a large data sharing project that led to some discoveries about Alzheimer’s. One of the study’s most interesting principles was that there would be no “ownership” of the data, and that it would be shared freely among several groups. The full article is here. Just days before this article, I posted questions about data ownership and intellectual property rights concerning medical discoveries, so it was great to discover that this was being addressed. Let’s see what influence it has on the “market” for knowledge.

-Rod Piechowski

Copyright © 2010, Rod Piechowski, Inc., Consulting

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