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Ayesha Salim (US) - Here…Talk to Robodoc

The day is finally here. Your nervously shift in your seat and wait for what is coming. The door opens and your eyes dart towards it. Time seems to slow down as you gaze into cold metallic eyes staring at you. You look for a sign. Any sign for what the face might reveal. But you can't see anything. It opens its mouth to speak but what comes out is cold and distant: "'I'm afraid I have some bad news..."

Some of you may be familiar with a robot called Watson that appeared on the popular game show Jeopardy, famously beating two human contestants. But this robot created by IBM has not been created to just show-up humans on game shows. Its purpose is much bigger than that. The goal is for Watson to help train physicians - so that one day it can be deployed to hospitals to help doctors with diagnoses. Sounds like great potential seeing as about one-third of doctor errors appear to be products of misdiagnosis. As humans we are prone to ‘anchoring bias' - but Watson is here to change all that. According to reports, it can digest information and make recommendations more quickly, and more intelligently than any machine before it. And we are talking huge numbers. Just how big? The robot can process up to 60 million pages of text per second.

Still not convinced? Well here is some food for thought. About 80% of all information is "unstructured." In medicine, this consists of physician's notes, research published in peer-reviewed medical and science journals, and even comment threads from online communities. Watson can make sense of all this information - and learn over time. The more Watson spends time sitting in on patient examinations, the better it will become at figuring out medical problems and helping with diagnoses. If all goes according to IBM's plan...Watson could be a game-changer - a technological breakthrough for healthcare that has long seen the deadly effects of mistakes made by doctors in patient diagnoses.

Consumer devices like the iPad mini, and healthcare apps are already transforming healthcare dramatically. Technological advancements in all aspects of society, not just healthcare, have meant that new ways of accumulating, processing, and applying data has come to the forefront.

But the question remains the same - does a robot have a place in healthcare? Yes it can help with patient diagnoses and faster decision-making. It can fill in for the gaps where we as humans fall short. But as most doctors will tell you, healthcare is more than just making cold, calculated diagnoses based on algorithms. Healthcare professionals don't just simply treat the patient. They provide comfort and basic reassurance. They build up trust and rapport with the patient. Would it be appropriate for Robot Watson to deal with a cancer patient?

There is no doubt that Watson could prove to be a clever companion for doctors - and if it will improve the quality of patient diagnoses - than that can only be a good thing. But it still raises some uncomfortable questions. For instance, how will Watson compete with a doctor that has 20/30 years of medical experience? Will the doctor have to bow down simply because Watson has greater analytical skills? Will Watson eventually be able to override and challenge the very thoughts and practices of physicians whose decisions helped shape its algorithms in the first place? The tables could turn with the doctor angrily saying to Watson "I made you!" But maybe by then it will already be too late.

By Ayesha Salim, Copywriter, IDG Connect

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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