The impact of AI on the medical industry
Developments in neural networks and other AI techniques have potential to transform healthcare but raise weighty questions about human bodies and society.
Artificial Intelligence has taken over many areas of life including healthcare in terms of for diagnostics, drug development, treatment personalization, and gene editing. Many years of medical training are required before someone can correctly diagnose diseases. Even after all that training, diagnostics is usually time-consuming. Unfortunately, in many fields and many places, there is a shortage of experts and that puts doctors under pressure and generally delays life-saving diagnosis. Human lives, which could have been saved, are lost. Luckily, machine learning, especially deep learning algorithms, has recently progressed in automatically diagnosing diseases. It is making diagnostics cheaper, faster and more available.
AI solutions changing how doctors manage their patients:
Companies like SnatchBot are changing the way Doctors run their clinics. The latest chatbot for dentists has been touted by Avi Ben Ezra (CTO at SnatchBot) as “a revolutionary tool that will improve dental offices around the world, combining the power of robotic process automation (RPA) with AI and a world leading chatbot platform”. Recently, in a forum aimed at medical technology professionals he recently discussed how multiple industries can be improved by AI.
Problems that doctors face in diagnostics
Many people know someone who was affected by late diagnosis. A child may have a fever for days and doctors may not find the real cause and end up giving any treatment just to control the fever. It’s a gamble that may lead to survival, complications or death. A man may complain about chest pains and be sent back home because no problem is found. He collapses two weeks later and has emergency heart surgery when the doctors discover he has aortic dissection. Chances of survival after surgery are very slim yet he could have been treated earlier. Many people are diagnosed with cancer after it has spread too much to benefit from chemotherapy. There are many examples.
Benefits of AI in diagnostics
When Regina Barzilay, a professor at MIT and an expert in artificial intelligence, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she saw an opportunity for research. She collected 90,000 breast x-rays to create software that predicts a patient’s cancer. From her calculations she could tell that the software could have highlighted her cancer two years earlier before it was diagnosed. “The AI was able to detect smaller details than the human eye could pick up,” she said.
Professor Barzilay’s work was highlighted in the ninth installment of the Sleepwalkers podcast. Sleepwalkers, an online radio, follows and explores the artificial intelligence revolution. Her episode discusses how AI is changing healthcare and maybe what mortality means. Here is part of what was said on Sleepwalkers.
“A.I. is already better than human doctors at diagnosing skin and breast cancer. And as machine learning advances, it’s becoming able to decode more complex information, like brain waves and the human genome. A.I. is beginning to revolutionize medicine, and allowing us to see into the future of our bodies… but can we ever know too much about ourselves? What will happen when machine learning lets us open our own black boxes?”
Most of the time people hear about glamorous things such as self-driving cars, yet healthcare is also benefiting from the fast-moving applications of AI. On one occasion, researchers at Stanford University demonstrated software that was able to diagnose skin cancer as accurately as dermatologists. Sebastian Thrun, who worked on this skin cancer project, said that people die a lot from skin cancer and yet many of those deaths can be prevented using artificial intelligence. This makes this technological advance beneficial.
Undesirable aspects of AI
AI is prone to abuse though. Oncologist Siddhartha Mukherjee, who is also a writer, welcomes the potential of artificial intelligence in medicine. He is, however, worried about the harmful aspects of the technology. For example, AI still requires a huge collection of patient conditions and data which can be tempting to government agencies and health insurers which may not prioritize patients’ interests.
Researchers have demonstrated that algorithms can process a person’s genomic data and use it to forecast individual characteristics such as the risks of certain diseases, height, etc. Soon AI will be able to predict indicators of intelligence and other traits that can temp parents to use techniques such as gene editing and IVF to shape their offspring’s destiny.
Such applications of Artificial Intelligence, that can foretell a person’s health, intelligences and other traits far into the future, even before the person is born, raise very tricky questions. Mukherjee says powerful knowledge like this will require physicians to think very carefully about their role in society and patients’ lives. “In medicine, because we’re intervening on bodies, we’re intervening on culture,” he says.
There are multiple industries that benefit from AI. In the medical field, dentists are changing how they run their practices – they use chatbots to assist with consultations. However in each area of medicine there is a race to find game-changing solutions.