What Big Tech’s New Alliance Means for the Health of AI
Some of the biggest tech giants yesterday agreed to build health care products that use a common set of standards in order to make it easier to share medical data across hospitals. What’s more, these are open standards and specifications aimed at encouraging “frictionless data exchange.”
The agreement between Amazon, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce is good news for medical professionals and their patients, because having more information at hand potentially aids speedy diagnosis and treatment. If the promised efficiencies materialize, there may even be savings on the horizon.
The openness of the standards is also very good news for the future competitiveness of the health care IT market, because it should lower the barriers to entry for companies that aren’t at the scale that these giants currently enjoy.
But the deal is also clearly good for its signatories, not only because it expands their potential markets, but because it will help feed their artificial intelligence ambitions. More data, if properly wrangled, translates to smarter AI.
And the companies need smarter AI. Consider the case of IBM and its marquee Watson system, which was recently the subject of quite the takedown by the Wall Street Journal. It turns out that more than a dozen clients and partners have scaled down or ended their experiments with using Watson in cancer treatment.
Here’s the relevant bit from that piece: “In many cases, the tools didn’t add much value. In some cases, Watson wasn’t accurate. Watson can be tripped up by a lack of data in rare or recurring cancers, and treatments are evolving faster than Watson’s human trainers can update the system.”
There’s a lesson in here about taking a realistic view of where AI’s development stands today. But there’s another takeaway too: perhaps health care is too sprawling an environment for one company, no matter how venerable and well-resourced, to provide all the value that’s needed on its own. If that’s the case, then there’s much cause to celebrate an agreement that breaks down silos, opens up markets, and hopefully saves lives.
A version of this story first appeared in CEO Daily, Fortune’s daily newsletter on succeeding big in business. Subscribe here.