IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson, and Paying Big Money for It

Nowadays, Watson isn’t just playing Jeopardy:

At the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, Watson was tested on 1,000 cancer diagnoses made by human experts. In 99 percent of them, Watson recommended the same treatment as the oncologists.

In 30 percent of the cases, Watson also found a treatment option the human doctors missed. Some treatments were based on research papers that the doctors had not read — more than 160,000 cancer research papers are published a year. Other treatment options might have surfaced in a new clinical trial the oncologists had not yet seen announced on the web.

But Watson read it all.

It’s pretty cool to see the support Artificial Intelligence (AI) could provide to oncologists. As the research and knowldege base in medicine expands and increasing rates, it’s impossible to expect every researcher to be up-to-date on the every study, technique, or drug released. AI can help doctors make better decisions by recommending treatments based on a significantly larger base of knowledge.

If Watson can help doctors, why couldn’t it also help teachers?

In my opinion, it’s not a question of if, but when teachers will get the same support from AI. Changing classroom practice based on educaiton research has always been a challenge. Organizations like Deans for Impact are doing great work to promote good instructional practice based on cognitive science literature, but it’s really hard to scale.

A “Watson for teachers” could help lower the barriers between high-quality cognitive science, education research, and instructional practice. It may still be years away, but it will certainly help more teachers make better decisions to support student growth.