Could supercomputers like IBM's Watson one day replace human physicians? It's a question that's been swirling for years, and one that receives more thorough treatment from Jonathan Cohn, in a recent essay for the Atlantic. As Cohn explains, researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York are currently using Watson to help train physicians, in the hopes of one day deploying it in hospitals to help doctors make diagnoses — something that could potentially mitigate costly human errors.
IBM says Watson is still a few years away from wide deployment, but its ability to learn and process information has already sparked dreams of a doctor-less future, with some enthusiasts saying artificial intelligence may disrupt healthcare in the same way that the internet revolutionized the media. "Specifically, they imagine the application of data as a 'disruptive' force, upending health care in the same way it has upended almost every other part of the economy—changing not just how medicine is practiced but who is practicing it," Cohn writes. "In Silicon Valley and other centers of innovation, investors and engineers talk casually about machines’ taking the place of doctors, serving as diagnosticians and even surgeons—doing the same work, with better results, for a lot less money."