IBM CEO on Watson's latest answers for fighting cancer

IBM CEO Ginni Rometty is convinced we are in the “third era of technology,” as IBM’s Watson Health partners with Quest Diagnostics to offer its cognitive computing technology nationwide for the first time.

Rometty described the first era of technology as “machines that counted” and the second era as “things that were programmed.” Now, a generation of artificial intelligence systems like the Jeopardy-winning Watson are being trained to analyze enormous amounts of unstructured data and reveal patterns and insights.

“We believe this era is ‘man and machine’ -- and, in fact, I know we say artificial intelligence, but it is really augmenting our intelligence,” Rometty said Monday on “CBS This Morning,” stressing that IBM’s goal for A.I. is to conduct “supervised learning” not overtake human smarts.   

For the past two years, 20 world-renowned cancer and biomedical institutes, including the University of North Carolina, have been training Watson to review medical literature and search online for the latest research. With Quest Diagnostics -- which serves 50 percent of doctors in the U.S. who are treating 70 percent of the country’s cancer patients, Rometty noted -- Watson will use its A.I. technology to help oncologists search for treatments that could benefit the patient.

“So, how this works is that if your doctor believes that some sort of genetic sequencing will really help looking at the tumor, looking at your normal tissue, they go to Quest. Quest can do the analysis, the genetic sequencing. If it’s more complex, they’ll use the Broad Institute. And then, Watson takes over,” Rometty said.

“What he’s looking for is, what are the real mutations, and then matching up with [that], what are the possible treatments that could matter? And so it is impossible for a doctor, no matter how great they are, to keep up with this,” Rometty added.

Rometty called the amount of information and research available “cognitive overload.”

“In the healthcare system, there is three million times more data than all books ever written. So what’s a doctor going to do? And so this idea, I see, and I’ve watched it with the oncologist, it’s very collegial. It’s back and forth. Because you’re testing your ideas and you’re thinking, and that’s how I see it working in almost every profession,” Rometty said.

It was important that the partnership would scale the technology so that it becomes accessible to everyone, Rometty said. It’s expected to expand into other industries to help “solve the unsolvable” in addition to impacting our daily lives. 

“I think in the next five years, you’ll use this kind of technology to make almost any important decision,” Rometty added. “And it could be around the weather, it could be around education, it could be around shopping, but at the other end, it will be about risk, finance, whether it’s anything to do with anything complex in a system in our world that’s out there.”