Could IBM Watson replace my doctor?

Junior & I

Now I’m on my way home from US. The visit to IBM was short and sweet. Really fun to see the heart of their research lab where magic happens and coolest ideas are being created by coolest people. But now that meetings are finished I realize that I caught cold, thanks to all that air conditioning. And luckily it’s US and the selection of pills to fight any disease is wide. So I search for a super-pill at Walmart and will for sure be recovered soon. Getting medication in Sweden is much more restrictive – one needs an ordination from a doctor. And our doctor is not extremely bright. Last time I visited him with my newborn Paul Jr who started to develop some rush on his skin the doctor had no clue. What he had was a lot of authority, but absolutely no clue about the reason of the skin rush. So he suggested that Junior may be intolerant to lactose. What? This does not make sense, especially since Junior never had stomach problems. And surely a mother of a small kid does not come unprepared to a doctor’s appointment in the era of big data, social networks and efficient search engines. Of course I had a number of possible diagnoses figured out that I presented to the incompetent doctor. And indeed, he liked my suggestions and prescribed the suggested medicines.

And that was the result of googling through a number of sources on the net for an hour.  A powerful reasoner that operates on a knowledge base of medical information would have completely automated that work for me. In fact, IBM Watson – the engine that has recently beaten humans in Jeopardy (see this video, for example) – has now become a doctor and is perfectly capable of replacing humans when it comes to medical diagnoses. So the new role of doctors could be to provide assurance of what the machine has come up with – that’s much more time efficient and precise.

The Power of IoT

Today I am in New York with my colleagues from Ericsson Research meeting IBM Research. We are talking about the Internet of Things (IoT) – the trend of physical things becoming connected and available for developers to build services using them. And I am staying at this nice hotel at Times Square called CitizenM. The first thing I always do in when I enter my room is to search for a regulator somewhere on the wall to increase the temperature in the room. I fail at doing that but shortly after I discover an iPad with an application to control everything in the room – curtains, blinds, lights, TV, A/C, and even the color of the lighting in the bathroom. There are also modes you can choose between – romance, business, party, etc – that make the whole room change its character. How cool is that? Some years ago we enjoyed the Emergency Party Button videos on youtube (such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZIfIzNW9xM), and now it has actually been implemented commercially.

Another cool example is Car2Go – a service where you can grab and drop off a Smart car anywhere in a city, that you control from an application on your phone. And if something is not working for you – just check that application – it has the answer. The state of all the car sensors is monitored by the cloud application, and if you try to end your rental while the trunk is open or when the car is parked a forbidden area the application will complain.

And what about the stage for Eurovision Song Contest? Last years’ performance of Måns Zelmerlöw started a trend, and this year every second artist used the cool animations provided by that stage. Did they get an API for that?

And the most interesting innovations will come with cross-domain interactions. IoT breaks the verticals and allows application developers to build their services across domains, which in its turn opens up a lot of new business values. Can the mood that I choose for my hotel room stretch to the car that I rent? I have been working with connected embedded systems for many years and still I get mind-blown when I see them in practice – it’s actually happening!

“… everything is possible”

How would the world look like if everything was possible from the technology perspective? If we had unlimited computational and memory resources and if data transfers happened instantaneously and without any losses. In other words, if the physical world did not put any limitations on technological capabilities. Would we have a completely different world, with more and richer services and new industries that do not even exist today? Practice shows that every technological breakthrough gave us a new disruption – just think of what we can do today thanks to mobile broadband.

Every new child in the world starts from the latest state of technological progress. We love technology, so our kids know that every room has a large screen and speakers where you can stream any content available on the web, cloud storage or devices. This is their starting point. Servitization is in their blood, devices around them are stupid, and services serving them are intelligent. When they want to get hold of some digital content they expect it to happen instantaneously and device- and location-independently. This is at least how my 8-year-old thinks. But what about my ½-year-old? He has no limits, not yet. He has not been told about the limits. How creative could he become if there were no technological limits? And isn’t it why we love virtual reality and prefer Minecraft instead of Lego.  As my good friend and colleague Leonid Mokrushin once said: “If it’s software, everything is possible”.