Artificial intelligence at a crossroads

by Ben Wright

I’m a Jeopardy! enthusiast, so when I watched the IBM Watson computer completely wipe the floor with two of the show’s greatest contestants in 2011, it was a bit disheartening. Was the future of trivia-based television doomed? Were robots destined not only to take our jobs but our quiz shows too? Thankfully, that didn’t happen, nor did Jeopardy’s Ultimate Tournament of Champions become a BattleBots showdown.

The IBM Watson computer was supposed to be a clarion call for a new kind of machine learning. Its programmers promised a sea change of human-computer interaction, starting with healthcare. That’s proved to be a greater challenge than expected, though by no means did enthusiasm dampen: CB Insights reports that artificial intelligence startups generated investments $127 million in 2015. It’s worth noting that those investments, while impressive, are markedly decreased from 2014’s record-setting $230 million year in 2014.

That declining investment points to the fact that artificial intelligence seems to be stuck in a hype cycle wave machine, every so often (as with Watson’s “Jeopardy!” victory lap) riding up the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” only to fall into the “Trough of Disillusionment” over and over again as game-changing technologies fail to materialize. As the latest round of startups start their research, are we headed for another peak? Or are we already barreling toward a trough? Is the technology finally ready to move onto the “Slope of Enlightenment”?

Hype Cycle Capture

Gartner Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies.

Image: Gartner

Illustration: Ben Wright

New research from our Technology Practice may help illuminate the “Slope” for artificial intelligence. Healthcare Gets Personal is a research program that highlights the challenges and opportunities of personalized medicine, also known as precision medicine. Artificial intelligence is a key piece of that—imagine a doctor that can diagnose and treat an individual patient accurately and instantaneously, drastically cutting down on misdiagnoses and unnecessary treatment.

To be sure, our research shows that we won’t be seen by robo-doctors anytime soon. As Jeremy Howard, founder of healthcare startup Entilic tells the New York Times, transforming the industry is “a 25-year project.”

But artificial intelligence and other aspects of personalized medicine hold great promise, and are already making a difference. According to our survey, two-thirds of healthcare professionals across North America and Europe say personalized medicine is having a measurable effect on patient outcomes, a number that stay steady when they look two years ahead.

Look for the full Healthcare Gets Personal paper later in March. In the meantime, check out some of our Thought Leadership experts discussing artificial intelligence and other personalized medicine issues during a podcast.

Ben Wright supports global research studies for the Thought Leadership group. He has developed and supported projects on subjects including cloud computing, workforce development, risk management, and the future of money.