IBM's Watson Health 'Moon Shoot' Suffers Layoffs

An early prototype of IBM Watson (Credit: IBM)

In the most recent round of cuts at IBM, an undisclosed number of Watson Health jobs have been lost.

It’s unclear if those roles will be replaced by AI itself (oh – the irony), but it seems to be a distinct possibility. The Herald Sun reported an IBM spokesperson saying that the layoffs impact only “a small percentage of our global Watson Health workforce, as we move to more technology-intensive offerings, simplified processes and automation to drive speed”.

This represents the latest troubling development for Watson Health – the most notable of which was their partnership with MD Anderson. Although there are also positive signs and a clear on-going commitment to the project from the top.

In 2015, CEO Ginni Rometty explained that IBM’s moonshot will be the impact that they have on healthcare, via Watson Health among other projects. And just last month the company announced a partnership with Apollo Hospitals – India’s largest speciality healthcare system – to adopt Watson for oncology and genomics across 10 hospitals.


Using Artificial Intelligence to Revolutionise Precision Medicine


Time will tell whether this announcement is a watershed moment for Watson Health. Certainly, IBM have some way to go to repair some damage to the perception of Watson within the healthcare and genomics communities.

However, this is AI. Talk is cheap. Progress is swift. And it’s the data that counts.

If a clear benefit to patient outcomes can be demonstrated and replicated, the good times for Watson might be just around the corner. And with the likes of Microsoft, Google and Apple operating in the AI healthcare space, they might just need to be.