What happens when the technological and medicinal forces collide?

When exploring how the future of medicine will be impacted by technology and innovation, we cannot forget about the rapidly increasing presence and dominance of artificial intelligence (AI). Artificial intelligence is the branch of computer science that studies and creates the intelligence of machines. It is a force that is gradually taking over the world in many aspects: jobs, personal life, and soon medicine.

How exactly will this technological concept relate to the future of medicine? Well, AI has the possibility to mass-collect and mass-analyze data about patients in a reliably quick manner that could transform how scientists and doctors react to problems with the human body. A new wave of research has swept through the world in search of a more in-depth understanding.

Julia Strait of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis summarized an article detailing this relationship and referenced a study conducted by her university. She claims that AI can utilize computer efficiency in order to better understand patient info such as age, medical history, tests, and DNA sequences, among other things. She suggests AI possess a power that can transform our world, going on to state that “AI excels at the complex identification of patterns in these reams of data, and it can do this at a scale and speed beyond human capacity. The hope is that this technology can be harnessed to help doctors and patients make better health-care decisions.”

A realistic example of how and when AI could first begin to adopt a significant role in medicinal practices would be the preliminary-type hospital tests such as conventional imaging or diagnosis. Whether that include X-Rays, ECG scans, or MRIs, AI can better the functionality of these systems through data analytical methods. Specifically, AI systems given access to hospital databases with crucial patient information could track trends over time in, say, changes in breast tissue, as referenced by the article. Such changes may predict symptoms of more critical issues, like heart disease, cancer, or more. Irregularities in data trends are commonly used in all industries to address internal issues in companies. The same concept applied to the professional medical field unlocks immense possibilities.  By running numbers that date back decades, doctors could very well be equipped with everything they need to diagnose their next patient life-savingly early-at the touch of a screen.

Strait’s report delves into a discussion involving the orchestrators of the previously mentioned Washington University at St. Louis study. AI experts Philip Payne and Thomas M. Maddox, both professors and directors in leading medical research programs at the university, offered to provide a better understanding of the intriguing connection between developing forms of artificial intelligence and modern medicine.

Payne and Maddox reiterate the essence of the applications of AI as greatly benefiting the medical fields through its unprecedented speed, numerous opportunities, and increased effectiveness. However, both emphasized the notion that no level of AI presence would steal from human power. It is essential to realize that new technology is not a replacement, but rather assistance, and a greatly beneficial one at that. Payne summarizes this concept by arguing that AI can “help care providers see important signals in massive amounts of data that would otherwise remain hidden. But at the same time, there are levels of understanding that computers still cannot and may never replicate,” suggesting that there are things computers are capable of that reach farther than human capabilities while humans have a special sense of prominence as well. His colleague, Maddox, adding to this point, asks “what are the patient’s preferences? What are the patient’s values? What does this mean for the patient’s life and for his or her family? That’s never going to be an AI function.”

Meanwhile, other researchers across the country and around the world are presenting breakthrough processes that are defending AI’s existence in health. In London, for example, the Moorfields Eye Hospital has partnered with DeepMind, a computer programs company. The duo aims to improve the diagnosis method for certain eye diseases. They focused on age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which according to the DeepMind website, is “one of the most common blinding eye diseases, with 170 million sufferers worldwide.” The objective of the study was to shorten the amount of time needed to analyze the 3D eye scans used to identify the disease, as well as to identify the disease in those who do not display obvious symptoms of it.

Despite the progress, there remains work to be done. Inevitable roadblocks are slowing the advancements that can be made. After all, the healthcare industry does not have a reputation for assimilating technology into basic systems. A bigger issue-one that concerns the well being and safety of everyone-seems to represent an opposition movement against technological incorporation in medical practices: privacy. The broad acceptance of machine interference in medicine today would require patient consent, as the information needed to fuel the AI-led transformation is considered private. Although this issue is one of extreme importance, the ethics of medicine and AI combined open up a separate discussion that may very well end up never-ending, and thus, is best to leave to another follow-up article.

It is essential to review the principles that set up a new medical territory. Because artificial intelligence is continually brought up when people discuss the future of the world we need to all be aware of how our experiences may change in hospitals and clinics. There is an undeniably growing influence that can effectively impact individuals as well as society as a whole. It this therefore imperative that the people are open to the idea of computer-backed medicine, but also protective of their ‘medical rights’ and privacy. Regardless of the implications, the effect that AI will have in the medical field is beyond tremendous.

A separate follow-up post will detail more information regarding ethics, implications, and dissenting opinions in the near future. Part II of the Coral Reef Catastrophe series will be published in the coming days.

12:10 AM EST

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