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Behind IBM Watson's health layoffs: What good AI will bring?

via:博客园     time:2018/7/4 22:32:26     readed:572


In addition to restructuring, layoffs, news related to IBM has been difficult to grasp the public eye. This time, the news of layoffs is the laurels of the IBM business line — — Watson Health Department, and from the information of all parties, the anger of the departing employees seems to point to the old problems faced by IBM in the Internet era: concept Leading the decade, the efficiency of landing is worrying.

It is not uncommon to lay off employees, but this time it is from the artificial intelligence department.

The layoffs of the IBM Watson Health Department, which took place in late May, did not attract industry attention at first. What really focused on the outside world was the report by the famous technology media IEEE Spectrum on June 25th. "The layoffs in the Watson Health Department revealed the problems IBM faces in AI."

In this article, IEEE Spectrum reporters were exposed to a number of employees who were recently fired from the IBM Watson Health Department, and many of the interviews revealed a lot of information that was not known to the outside world.

First, the article shows that the dismissed employees came from three companies that were previously heavily funded by IBM: Phytel, Explorys, and Truven. Among them, nearly 80% of Phytel's employees were laid off; and respondents estimated that nearly 300 other companies, Explorys and Truven, received layoff notices. According to this figure, it is estimated that the total number of Watson health layoffs will be between 50% and 70% of the overall department.

Second, respondents revealed that the Watson Health Department's layoffs included many engineers, salespeople, and project managers, not “redundant staff”. In addition, when talking about the development of Watson's healthy projects, respondents expressed the view that the company's management is chaotic, resulting in fierce competition and substantial layoffs; the mission of Watson's profitability of the health department has failed; It is IBM's Watson Health Department that may no longer provide products to hospitals, clinics, and other providers. Respondents analyzed that this was because most of the employees who were not fired by the three companies were serving insurance companies.

Of course, IBM does not disclose the actual situation of the layoffs. The IBM spokesperson’s statement on the layoffs is: “This layoff only affects a small number of employees in the Watson Health Department, as we move to more technology-intensive products, streamlining processes and automation to improve speed. IBM will continue to reposition our team to focus on the high-value segments of the IT market, and we will continue to actively recruit in key new areas to create value for our customers and IBM. ”

Layoffs and recruitment at the same time Watson is just to exchange blood?

An IBM spokesperson also quoted a Morgan Stanley analyst to explain the meaning of layoffs and restructuring: “The layoffs on behalf of restructuring actions usually mean new acquisitions in the future”. However, I believe that public opinion will clearly realize that if it is a good business direction, Wall Street investors and companies will not be happy to see such a large-scale one-time "transformation".

Of course, IBM's layoffs in restructuring and business direction adjustments are not uncommon in recent years. In a March 2018 survey by US non-profit folk news organizations, Mother Jones and Pro Publica, IBM has cut 20,000 employees over the age of 40 over the past five years, while hiring 80s.

While striding down the staff, they recruited people with great moves. If it is to renew energy for the business, to ensure enough "fresh blood", this may also be a strategy.

However, behind this restructuring and layoffs, it seems difficult to explain the information that Phytel engineers mentioned in an interview: Phytel had more than 150 customers when it was acquired by IBM three years ago, and currently there are only about 80; IBM Phytel didn't release new tools, just burn money.

It is mentioned that “acquisition” is another behavior that IBM has often attracted attention in addition to layoffs in recent years.

In 2016 alone, IBM acquired 15 companies, including Truven, a health data analytics company acquired for $2.6 billion. Prior to this, IBM purchased Merge, a medical imaging company, for $1 billion in 2015. Two technology startups in the healthcare sector, Explorys and Phytel, were also included in the IBM company in April 2015.

The gap between ideal and reality Where will IBM's AI go?


In fact, between 2014 and 2015, IBM's frequent acquisitions of companies in the healthcare industry have highlighted IBM's intention to use the Watson brand to quickly push it after the establishment of IBM Watson Health in 2014. The determination of the market.

But regarding the health care field, I am afraid it is an attempt to make IBM love and hate. Like the good intentions of changing the world in the past, IBM hopes that Watson Health Products can apply the memory and cognitive processing capabilities of the Watson cloud platform and computing system, and analyze the large number of medical papers and data in a fast reading process to provide doctors and researchers with The patient's adjuvant treatment plan.

IBM's entry point of artificial intelligence in the field of health care actually means the desire to occupy the market. But the ideal is beautiful, but the reality is not always smooth.

About two years after the establishment of the IBM Watson Health department, on February 21, 2017, the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, USA, was discontinued with IBM Watson Health due to the failure to achieve its goal after investing $62 million. Artificial Intelligence Collaborative Project for Cancer Treatment, starting in June 2016.

The reason for this is that after investing a lot of money and time at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, the University of Texas found that there was no result on the project, nor did it jointly carry out a pilot project with the partner hospital according to the contract reached. At the end of the investigation, MD Anderson Cancer Center terminated its partnership with IBM Watson Health and conducted a public tender to continue to find the right software system to use artificial intelligence for cancer treatment.

Although the results of the collaboration with the MD Anderson Cancer Center have been questioned by public opinion about the true level of artificial intelligence, IBM believes that IBM is good at using sales and marketing structures to persuade people with asymmetric information to pay for certain products. ” However, in the statement issued by IBM, the validity of Watson artificial intelligence in Manipal Hospital in India and Jupiter Medical Center in the US community hospital was clearly stated.

Perhaps the respondents in this IEEE Spectrum article do not really represent the real health of IBM's Watson health. The outside world is always looking forward to, Watson Health can really come up with effective figures and cases to prove that they are profitable or on the road to profitability.

For China's IBM Watson cooperation project: the concept is virtual, landing is true

In fact, in 2016, Watson Health and the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Watson Health began an attempt to open the Chinese market.

For example, in August 2016, IBM began Watson Health's first partner project in China, and announced with Hangzhou Cognitive Network Technology Co., Ltd. that it has reached cooperation with 21 local hospitals in China, and plans to use IBM Watson tumor solutions to help doctors. Provide patients with better personalized cancer treatment options.

At present, there is no news that IBM Watson Health's cooperation project in China has been blocked. However, the outside world continues to pay attention to several questions: Does it really improve the patient's diagnosis and treatment results? Has the cost been reduced? Or does it bring some other benefits, such as providing reports on drugs, equipment or experiments?

“Artificial intelligence began from 1970 to 1980 and was occasionally overstated. “The professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Biomedical Engineering, Steven, said, “keep a skeptical attitude and pursue evidence. There are more companies that technology companies need to do than simply claiming that a technology will work. “

A company's marketing strategy can include subjective opinions or feelings, but the figures on the company's financial statements and the layoffs are visible facts.

In June last year, a report from Jefferies Investment Bank concluded that despite IBM’s huge investment in Watson’s health projects (reported analysts estimate that IBM will invest approximately $15 billion from 2010 to 2015), the division is still Not profitable. IBM's annual report at the end of 2017 also confirms that its artificial intelligence business is far from profitable compared to the amount of investment.

But we believe that artificial intelligence technology will eventually enter the medical and health field. Even if IBM does not undertake this part of the work, foreign Google Deepmind, Microsoft Hanover, domestic Baidu health care AI, etc. will also be involved in the field of smart medical. At present, companies such as Deepmind are continuously launching relevant research results.


The period of artificial intelligence field “empty concept” is allowed to exist, but it will not be too long, because these partner companies that have gone through the real money will eventually need to land to see results (either to improve the treatment effect, or to reduce cost). Even though Watson’s performance on TV shows is somewhat amazing, IBM’s valuation has dropped from $197.8 billion at the end of 2014 to today’s —— July 2, 2018, $128.4 million, enough to illustrate many issues. .

We look forward to IBM as the company that entered the market early and is the first company to try to provide medical AI services. After experiencing these layoffs, the pain of transformation, and the process of continuous learning, we will use real results to prove what is true. Artificial intelligence capabilities.

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