Can Artificial Intelligence really help science defeat disease? This at first glance utopian idea will no doubt make the skeptics of modern technology laugh. Scientists, on the other hand, see the potential and several possible solutions are already being implemented.
Altruistic? Perhaps. Useful? Without a doubt.
Our world of technophiles is sometimes driven to extremes: many fanboys defend the brands they love, by all means, to the point that even troubles sociologists. This is the power of marketing in its raw state, it is neither new nor surprising, as today’s generations were born into this trend without even noticing it.
So, a worrying issue and skeptics tend to be in the same vein: technology companies are only interested in themselves, they do not want to help users, they say, but only alienate them to them in their eco-systems to hold and the like. These points, which can usually be substantiated, must, however, be classified. Many well-known technology companies are opening up to new scientific ideas, and although their interest in medicine is not altruistic, it is still real and can make a real difference.
Medicine finds its place in the development
Since Artificial Intelligence is above all a technology, it is not surprising that all the big names in the industry deal with the subject. Amazon has founded the so-called department “1492”, a department for networked health, which works among other things in the field of machine learning. The year in the name indicates: Amazon sees the field of digital health simply as a new continent that needs to be explored, as Christopher Columbus did with America in 1492. Of course, Google or parent company Alphabet also looks at these technologies. Facebook does not lack ambitions, on the contrary. By the year 2100, the group wants to eradicate all diseases. Microsoft, on the other hand, sets itself a goal for the first time: Cancer should no longer exist with the help of AI until 2026.
Beyond the (probably a bit too optimistic) ambitions of these companies, it is interesting to understand how AI could revolutionize medicine.
Artificial intelligence has evolved enormously in recent years. Think back to the year 1997, when astrophysicist Piet Hut said it would take a hundred years for a machine to beat a human at the board game “Go”. In 2017, just twenty years later, the AlphaGo program of DeepMind, a Google subsidiary, beat the Go world champion.
The development of Artificial Intelligence is much more than just a game. The huge database needed to anticipate all sorts of scenarios can now be built on the concept of machine learning. The more data the AI has, the more effective it can be. Like a human, in short, because its responsiveness depends on its knowledge. But the machine is much faster.
Recognize early instead of treating late
This speed of analysis and the precision that the machine can have with many data make it a decisive advantage in medicine. However, it should not replace the diagnosis of a doctor, but complement it.
Laurent Schlosser, Director of Microsoft’s Public Sector Division, says “98 percent of health is curative today, and AI will make it possible to move to more preventive medicine.” What he suggests here is that the strength of AI is more in the early detection of problems than in their treatment. Instead of treating diseases only when they have already broken out, the outbreak should be prevented.
The ability of the AI to understand and recognize, in combination with human medical decisions, enables the early detection of disease. Therefore, oncology in medicine is the preferred field of AI. There the recognition diagnostics play an important role. The most obvious example is the AI, which in China has seen tumors in half the time better than a team of 15 physicians. Noteworthy is Google’s retinal analysis, which provides a wealth of information about the patient’s state of health with a simple scan of the eye and aims to predict possible strokes.
DeepMind, which has developed the formidable AI for the game of Go, has a very noble goal: to use AI to reduce the number of deaths in hospitals by limiting human error by physicians. By accessing patient data, the AI could determine whether or not the patient has a problem by analyzing all collected data (last surgery, history, age, etc.).
AI instead of emergency call
Many other companies, large and small, are concerned with the topic. There are already several solutions, usually at a less specialized level than we have seen above. Babylon Health, for example, is an online consulting application. The London-based company is working hard on artificial intelligence to improve diagnostics, and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is so confident it’s being tested as an alternative to phone calls in the UK. The success rate is 92 percent, which is more convincing than doctors (82 percent) and nurses (77 percent).
We have to stay alert
As always with the technology, we come back to the same question: Will the machines replace us someday? Although this is in principle possible in some things, but not shortly. Artificial Intelligence-related medical technologies aim to understand problems, detect anomalies and, if necessary, analyze solutions. It is a complementary diagnosis that aims to see what human medicine cannot see for itself. The future will show us how this develops.
Another problem is more pressing: digital companies take control of a new market. Will we ever see Google hospitals? Facebook clinics? Is the patient automatically assigned a promotional ID? Also, it is worthwhile to think about it.