The beginning of the Cognitive Era – Ginni Rometty, HIMSS 2017


In the opening keynote of the HIMSS 2017, Ginni Rometty, Chairman, President and CEO of IBM, laid out her vision of the future of Healthcare IT and Healthcare itself. Ginni’s talk mainly focused on Watson which was launched about 5 years ago and more specifically about Watson Health which was launched 2 years ago. She described the current era as exciting and declared that this is the beginning of the Cognitive Era.

So what exactly is Cognitive? It is the next step in evolution of learning technologies that began with Machine Learning and then moved on to Artificial Intelligence and has now into Cognitive Intelligence which not only helps learning, but also helps make future predictions from the analysis of data and the data patterns.

As per Ginni, over the next three to five years, she expects most companies of the healthcare Industry to make three important decisions:

1) Picking a cloud Platform – The key factor here is going to be data privacy and security. The vendors who can provide this would be the favored choices for healthcare sector.

2) Picking a Data Architecture – The biggest challenge in the healthcare industry is the fact that data is organized in different data structures like PACS, RIS, HIS and within each of these there are different data structures with different vendors. To add to this the imaging data is also equally unstructured. So soon most of the Healthcare stakeholders would now be starting to pick a Data Architecture to move towards for consolidation as well as for enabling the next decision in this process.

3) Pick an AI Platform – Finally, Healthcare industry companies need to start picking the AI platforms which are then going to start to drive their Cognitive studies. Of course, the technologies involved here is not just AI, but also concepts such as Deep Learning which are evolving.

Switching gears, Ginni moved on to the success that IBM is achieving with Watson Health especially in the field of Oncology. As per Ginni, the key was in convincing partner Doctors, Physicians and Radiologists that the purpose of this technology was not to replace humans but to augment them with better data mining to help make more informed decisions and make it the best deal for the patients.

Another very important aspect in the development of Watson has been the transparency and at all times questions such as what data was used to train the cognitive process and how that data was used when in reaching the decision that the AI engine reached is done transparently. This helps build confidence amongst the practitioners.

During the Q&A session, Ginni touched upon today’s inhibitors in adaptation of this technology. The key inhibitor is the existing platforms which are like silos which do not easily link with each other. Another major inhibitor is that people think of the patient data as intellectual property and are generally averse to sharing data. But things are reaching a tipping point and people are beginning to realize this. In her words, she sees Data as the world’s next natural resource and it needs to be used judiciously. Finally, she closed out with a very interesting thought to challenge the minds – “Growth and comfort never co-exist“.

So her advise to the healthcare IT industry is that get out of the comfort zones as the Era of Cognitive is beginning.

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