IBM’s Watson supercomputer rose to fame when it trounced two human Jeopardy contestants in 2011. And since then, it’s kept itself busy, as a chef, bartender, and even pseudo-doctor. Watson has even dabbled in cancer before. But the latest foray is the most impressive.
Doctors from participating clinics will upload the DNA fingerprint of a tumor, and Watson will scour its memory banks, trying to work out which mutation is driving tumor growth, and what drug – approved or experimental – is best suited to attack the ailment, based on its knowledge of medicine, and the many clinical trials fed into its brain.
In that regard, it isn’t just matching human doctors: it’s using the obscene computing power at its disposal to find the best cure. It’s not a system that will suddenly eradicate cancer – there are still tumors that will puzzle Watson, and radiation/chemotherapy will still be the best treatment in some cases – but it’s a pretty big stepping stone on the path towards more personalized, more effective medicine. Let’s hope Watson’s first recommendation isn’t for a hot bowl of chicken soup.