Can AI be used in medicine?
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is routinely use in technology to filter spam emails, recommend personalised ads and support voice assistants like Siri or Alexa. We are only beginning to tap into the enormous potential of AI, and many are interested in how we can apply this technology to save lives in medical settings. Can AI be used in medicine and what are its limitations in this field? We asked 6 experts in AI, computer science and mathematics, “Can AI be used in medicine?”, here is what they said…
Can AI be used in medicine?
6 out of 6 experts say ‘Yes’
What areas of medicine can AI help in?
Professor Mark Lee, a computer science expert from Aberystwyth University in Scotland, says “AI is already being used in many ways in medicine and health related industries. Some examples: robot surgery for specific bone and organ operations; AI diagnosis of xrays for breast and prostate cancer; automated testing of pathology samples; speeding up the development of new drugs; knowledge-based advice generation for medical staff. In many of these tasks the AI program can outperform humans.”
One of the most talked about aspects of medicine that AI contributes to is diagnostics. Coming up with a correct diagnosis involves identifying patterns in data, and this is something AI is very good at. Professor Scott Fahlman, a computer science expert from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA, says “Even the earliest AI systems could do a pretty good job of suggesting a diagnosis or an appropriate drug to us, based on a set of symptoms. Current systems can do a very good job of detecting abnormal cells in a biopsy image or suspicious shadows in a mammogram.” One example is the biotechnology company DeepMind, which has partnered with Moorfields Eye Hospital in London to help identify serious eye conditions from optical coherence tomography (OCT) scans, reducing the time it takes for patients to get diagnosed and treated.
Dr David Tuffley, an AI expert from Griffith University in Australia, gives another example “In Japan in recent times a woman with a rare form of leukaemia was misdiagnosed by her human doctors. ‘Dr Watson’ (IBM’s medical AI) was enlisted. The lady had her genome sequenced and was fed into Dr Watson along with several million oncological studies. In around 11 minutes Watson had processed all this data and produced the correct diagnosis together with a recommended treatment regimen. The patient was cured, and it was a team effort including a human doctor and medical AI. It is said she is the first person in Japan to have ‘her life saved by a computer’.”
Does AI in medicine make human involvement redundant?
Professor Lee says “From this impressive progress you might think doctors will eventually become redundant. However, as IBM found when building their Watson system for answering questions about medical decisions, the best outcomes are always produced when humans and algorithms work in collaboration. We need to use AIs as tools with human oversight and combined with human judgement. The robot doctor might be a nice idea but they will never replace humans.”
Professor Fahlman agrees, “In most such applications, the AI contribution is as a tool, with a human expert still in charge.”
AI is already used in many aspects of medicine, and this is likely to increase
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