The Future of Saving Lives With Artificial Intelligence


by Phylicia Teymer

*Click to listen to audio version.

600,920. 1.7 million. 15.5 million.

The numbers listed above represent the names of loved ones. Each life impacted by a disease that shatters the beautiful fragility of life. Cancer, can bring tears from memories of those lost to it, fear to those who’ve heard its name, and hope to those who’ve won their battles.

According to the American Cancer Society, in the US, 600,920 lives are expected to be lost to cancer in 2017, with an estimated 1.7 million new cancer cases to be diagnosed this year. For each of those 15.5 million living Americans who’ve had a history of cancer, there’s a story to be told and a life to be celebrated 1.

For a nation that honors those who’ve fallen and celebrates its heroes, we have many to honor, and a hero whose strength is in the data and knowledge amassed through past and present health battles with cancer, it’s Watson Health.

Watson Health, infuses IBM Watson technology, a form of artificial intelligence. What does that mean and why does it matter? Imagine a technology, that can understand, reason, and learn on a massive scale and apply it to healthcare – and its potential impact on lives saved. In 2013, Watson had already ingested 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, more than two million pages from medical journals, and had the ability to search through up to 1.5 million patient records for further information to give it a scope of knowledge that no doctor could ever match.2

What do I imagine in the near future? I see artificial intelligence technology assisting healthcare professionals through:

Health and Cancer Diagnostics:

Ability to assist doctors by analyzing a patient’s records and current symptoms – and analyzing it against massive medical evidence and other patients’ records who’ve experienced similar symptoms to determine diagnoses earlier and make more effective treatment recommendations.3

Potential Cures for Diseases:

While I can’t say it will cure cancer and other diseases for sure  – I can say it will more quickly enable and empower our medical professionals with compounded knowledge from medical evidence and patient data that no one human could ever interpret and analyze on their own in their lifetime. It could also evaluate chemical compounds that comprise medications and could assist in the same way. It will move us more quickly and efficiently in the direction of finding a cure faster.

Think of the lives that could be saved through the help of artificial intelligence by being able to recognize, diagnose, and treat symptoms faster and identify diseases earlier. It is and will continue to empower doctors, patients, and families. While some fear of artificial intelligence becoming smarter than us – we need it to be in order to help save more lives and bring us closer to a cure for those diseases that take those we love the most away.


1 American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts & Figures 2017. Atlanta: American Cancer Society; 2017.

2 Steadman, Ian. Wired. 11 Feb 2013. “IBM Watson is Better at Diagnosing Cancer Than Human Doctors.” Date accessed 28 Jan 2017.

3 Upbin, Bruce. 11 May 2017. “IBM’s Watson Now A Second-Year Med Student”. Date Accessed 28 Jan 2017.

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