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A.I. making a difference in cancer care

The artificial intelligence we see in daily life is just a fraction of its vast potential. Already it's making strides in cancer care

It helps us drive our cars, use our cell phones and socialize online, but artificial intelligence is beginning to make a big difference in cancer, too.  And that may be just the beginning, Charlie Rose reports on the next edition of 60 Minutes, Sunday, Oct. 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. PT.

Watson, the IBM technology, is doing much more now than beating humans on TV’s “Jeopardy!” Five years after that, the A.I. technology has the ability to learn and analyze mountains of data. It is now becoming a crucial tool for doctors. Scientific research grows at a rate of some 8,000 academic papers a day – far too much for doctors to keep up with. In an analysis of more than 1,000 cancer patients, Watson found the same treatments available that doctors had recommended 99 percent of the time. But Watson did better than the doctors in other ways, says Dr. Ned Sharpless.

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Dr. Ned Sharpless  

CBS News


“The…more exciting part about [the analysis] is in 30 percent of patients, Watson found something new—so that’s 300-plus people where Watson identified a treatment that a well-meaning, hard-working group of physicians hadn’t found,” says Sharpless, head of the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.   The treatments identified by Watson were in clinical trial or had only become approved or revealed recently. “These were real…things…we would have considered actionable had we known about it at the time of the diagnosis,” says Dr. Sharpless.

Watson had been trained to read medical literature. It read 25 million published medical papers in about week and was also able to scan the Web for the latest scientific research. As an artificial intelligence, Watson can understand and analyze natural language, continuously learns and never forgets.

Although still in its infancy, the science of AI has made more progress in the past five years than in the previous 50.  The technology is also being used in other ways – including in robots. Rose interviewed a life-like robot named Sofia – a moment that will be featured in his story Sunday night.

A.I. is already enhancing military technology, education and medicine,  but we are only seeing a small fraction of what it may potentially mean for civilization.  Says John Kelly, head of IBM’s A.I. business unit and research labs, “So fast forward from [Jeopardy!], five years later, we’re in cancer now,” he tells Rose.  “It’s only at a few percent of its potential. I think this is a multi-decade journey that we’re on and we’re only a few years into it.”