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01.02.2020 | Original Article Open Access

Concordance as evidence in the Watson for Oncology decision-support system

Aaro Tupasela, Ezio Di Nucci
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Machine learning platforms have emerged as a new promissory technology that some argue will revolutionize work practices across a broad range of professions, including medical care. During the past few years, IBM has been testing its Watson for Oncology platform at several oncology departments around the world. Published reports, news stories, as well as our own empirical research show that in some cases, the levels of concordance over recommended treatment protocols between the platform and human oncologists have been quite low. Other studies supported by IBM claim concordance rates as high as 96%. We use the Watson for Oncology case to examine the practice of using concordance levels between tumor boards and a machine learning decision-support system as a form of evidence. We address a challenge related to the epistemic authority between oncologists on tumor boards and the Watson Oncology platform by arguing that the use of concordance levels as a form of evidence of quality or trustworthiness is problematic. Although the platform provides links to the literature from which it draws its conclusion, it obfuscates the scoring criteria that it uses to value some studies over others. In other words, the platform “black boxes” the values that are coded into its scoring system.

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