IBM’s Watson recently successfully diagnosed a life-threatening disease that doctors in Japan had not been able to figure out. It’s being called the “greatest feat yet” for Watson, which IBM is making available for more medical projects. So, are robot doctors coming?

Could be – someday.

University of Tokyo doctors said that the artificial intelligence Watson had diagnosed a rare form of leukemia that had been incorrectly identified months earlier in a 60-year-old woman. 

“What’s next, robot doctors?”

That was the question posed by news site Silicon Angle in reporting the Watson success as first disclosed last week by the University of Tokyo.

  • More coverage: Dr. Watson is in. Watch video on Watson Health – How it works


“Watson’s success demonstrates the huge potential of data analysis and artificial intelligence, which extends far beyond predicting networking needs or following stock market trends,” Silicon Angle reported.

“With enough genetic data an the right algorithms, tools like Watson could be used for everything from diagnosing rare illnesses to prescribing perfectly correct dosages of medicine based on each patient’s personal genetic makeup.”

Watson’s “greatest feat”

Noting that Watson had already beaten humans in “Jeopardy!,” Engadget called the disease diagnosis “its greatest feat yet: saving a life.”

Engadget noted that Watson needed “just 10 minutes to compare the patient’s genetic changes with a database of 20 million cancer research papers, delivering an accurate diagnosis and leading to proper treatment that had proven elusive. Watson has also identified another rare form of leukemia in another patient.”

Putting humans to shame?

“Five years after dominating geniuses in its debut on Jeopardy!, IBM’s Watson is still putting human intelligence to shame,” is how The New York Daily News reported the story.

“Doctors were stumped after treatment for the original leukemia diagnosis didn’t work, leading them to plug the patient’s genetic information into Watson’s program for answers,” the paper said.

In 2011, Columbia University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine began working with Watson.

“There, Watson was loaded up with medical cases and millions of pages of research papers. The program also went through several sessions with doctors, being corrected whenever it gave a wrong answer,” the Daily News recounted.

IBM also has reported numerous research efforts and medical partnerships involving Watson and has built an entire business unit around it called Watson Health.

In the words of the Daily News, Watson has completed its “residency.”

“Watson graduated from its medical residency in 2013, becoming available for doctors and health insurance companies shortly after. IBM (NYSE: IBM) claimed Watson had improved its performance by 240% from 2011 to 2013.”

IBM employs thousands of people across North Carolina, including at its campus in RTP.