Watson, knowledge, and wisdom

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The knowledge-vs.-wisdom theme came up again. (See  the “Tomatoes and Medtech” blog.) This time it arose during a panel session at last week’s Cleveland Clinic Innovation Summit. The context was a discussion about Watson, the IBM supercomputer that first gained notoriety on "Jeopardy!" when it beat the best of the best human contestants.

Now, the IBM-Cleveland Clinic WatsonPaths collaboration promises to bring Watson software to a hospital or clinic near you. An IBM press release explains what IBM scientists, together with Cleveland Clinic doctors, are accomplishing: “WatsonPaths explores a complex scenario and draws conclusions much like people do in real life. When presented with a medical case, WatsonPaths extracts statements based on the knowledge it has learned as a result of being trained by medical doctors and from medical literature.”

Of course, there’s much more to it than that. But suffice it to say that the Watson software solution will provide physicians with a wealth of knowledge and treatment options.

The way such technologies actually get used in real-life situations involving physicians and patients will require much careful and thoughtful evaluation. At the end of the day, it will be physicians who apply wisdom to the knowledge Watson promises as a means of recommending the best healthcare options for patients.

James Young, Watson panel participant and chairman of The Cleveland Clinic’s Endocrinology and Metabolism Institute, put it this way: “There’s a big difference between knowledge and wisdom. Watson may become the most knowledgeable physician, if you will, but I’m not sure you can program the wisdom necessary for understanding a patient’s emotional state, family tensions, and nonverbal communications when evaluating treatment options.”

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