The Computer Will See You Now: The Future of AI in Healthcare

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As we near the end of 2017, we’re likely to see highlights of the year in all forms of media as well as predictions for 2018. AI (Artificial Intelligence) has certainly hit the headlines in recent years as we prepare for a world of driverless cars, immersive, interactive movies and computers ultimately taking over! But what does AI hold in store for us in terms of healthcare? It is certainly going to be a trillion dollar industry as companies invest to develop and produce AI healthcare solutions in everything from day-to-day sleep monitoring to bespoke cancer care.

So what are some predicitions/expectations of AI in healthcare?

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Your computer becomes your doctor. In the most basic terms, AI will manage data by collecting, storing and analysing it constantly. Many of us are already wearing exercise and sleep trackers. Advances will see these fitness devices monitoring blood pressure, pulse, sugar levels, sleep and exercise and feeding this data directly into our computers (most of this technology is already there) revealing a daily overview of your health. You will take a selfie and your phone will check your eye health and check your skin to look for melanomas. Smart toilets will take stool samples and monitor your urine whilst also measuring changes in volume and flow. The analysis won’t stop there with smart sewers meaning automated sampling can enable real-time prediction of viral outbreaks in cities.

Apps are already in development to track a user’s emotions by recording and tracking voice measurements. Changes in voice could help to identify common colds, Parkinson’s disease or even a stroke. These sorts of apps will mean that doctors can diagnose patients over long distances by using smartphones. All of this information will be monitored by an AI program that will follow you throughout your lifetime, making you aware of changes, causes for concern or alerting the experts if there are more serious problems.

Professor Toby Walsh, an academic and AI expert says, “All of us tend to underestimate the long-term changes technology can bring.” He says that by 2050, many of us will have had our genes sequenced so that we can identify our unique genetic risks. The younger generation at this time may even have had their genes sequenced before birth in utero, alerting their AI doctor to any diseases to which they are prone. This doctor will know more information than any human doctor could, it will know and have access to the latest medical literature and studies and is likely to be a trillion dollar industry.

 

In our surgeries, AI could end waiting times by optimizing physician and patient schedules and helping patients to treat simple medical problems themselves to reduce the burden on doctors. AI assistants will be able to look up relevant information for doctors and keep them up to date on the latest clinical research. AI is already in place with Google’s DeepMind launched in partnership with the NHS data management sharing. DeepMind is able to process hundreds of thousands of medical information records within minutes. IBM states that each of us generates about 300 million books of health-related data in our lifetime. IBM’s ‘Watson’ (named after IBM’s founder, Thomas Watson) is a supercomputer that combines AI with sophisticated analytical software to become a question answering computer system and is currently being used in Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool to create the UK’s first ‘cognitive’ hospital by harnessing ‘big data’.

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Precision medicine with targeted treatments will become commonplace. Physicians will be able to work out the best therapies for their patients. IBM say their Medical Sieve is an ‘ambitious long-term exploratory grand challenge project to build a next generation cognitive assistant with advanced multimodal analytics, clinical knowledge and reasoning capabilities that is qualified to assist in clinical decision making in radiology and cardiology. It will exhibit a deep understanding of diseases and their interpretation in multiple modalities (X-ray, Ultrasound, CT, MRI, PET, Clinical text) covering various radiology and cardiology specialties.’

Professor Steven Hawking offered a stark warning that the invention of AI could be ‘the worst event in the history of our civilization…computers can, in theory, emulate human intelligence, and exceed it.’ His warning about the possible dangers are counteracted by his admission that AI can be created for ‘good’ in areas such as repairing damage to the natural world, transforming society and helping to beat disease.

Life after death?

Although the earliest chatbots date back to the 60’s, newer forms of chatbots are computer programs that make conversation with humans in either text or spoken form. Today, chatbots are already used widely by companies to interact with their customers and by criminals who use them within chatroom environments to scam people for information such as bank details. In day to day life, many of us will be familiar with asking ‘Siri’, ‘Cortana’ or ‘Genie’ questions on our phones – even if only for the amusement of some of the humorous answers! Developing sophisticated chatbots by inputting vast amounts of data mean the bots are able to reply sensibly to questions and hold conversations. Will we leave behind an AI chatbot that will talk like us, know the story of our life and comfort our family when we die? This is already happening and is only set to become more popular.

Professor Walsh raises the interesting question, “What redress do you have against an AI bot that pretends to be you? Do you have a right to know if you’re interacting with a computer rather than a real person? Should AI bots be prohibited from political discourse? Who can switch off your bot after you die? Do bots have freedom of speech? It will be an interesting future.”