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The Role of AI in Medicine
2017-07-26 18:23:10
Oliver Smith

Photo by: Official U.S Navy Imagery via Flickr

Technology is evolving at an exponential rate and ever since the Industrial Revolution during the late 18th century, it gave rise to the succession of advanced technological processes that are concerned with manufacturing and production.What technology offers us is the promise of speed and efficiency so that man can work less and proviiding more time for leisure.At least, for the most part, that was the ideal vision.    Now, we are entering an age where machines are capable of “deep learning” which is a type of an AI learning system that mimics the neural pathways of the brain causing it to improve itself through experience.These experiences vary according to the machine’s intended usage.For example, German computer scientist German Thrun developed a deep learning algorithm that lets the machine detect melanoma among patients.By feeding the machine various images of skin lesions from image repositories by dermatologists, it was able to determine the correct appearance of melanoma on the skin by seventy-three percent in a span of three months as opposed to two board-certified dermatologists who falls short by getting them only right by sixty-six percent.

    The logic was that Thrun synthesized our brain’s visual pattern recognition with the machine as opposed to a binary “yes/no.” The machine’s deep learning algorithm is enabled itself to outdo itself and therefore learn through differences and recognition.However, it is still indefinite as to how will it affect human relations for the reason that, as AI research is being pushed beyond human limitations, we are crossing the “black box” effect.As far as these machines learn and evolve at their own will, there is an inevitable possibility of an existential threat to humanity.Some radiologists are accepting that in the near future, AI will do the work for them which presents a possibility of displacement and it is not only happening in the field of medicine.    Despite these emerging threats, the process of diagnosis is undeniably on a rise with precision, accommodating more and more patients and quickens the treatment because of technological advancements.But at what cost?

    Medical practitioners, especially within the specialized field require a rigorous amount of training that could amount to a decade or even more so.Yet, a machine such as Thrun’s can learn to identify potential cancer from skin lesions is still at a unique precision that is greater than a human.But the price that amounts for efficiency and immediacy risks unemployment, money for the funding of universities and colleges for specialized medical practices, and perhaps even the time that one is required to be a professional in the field of medicine.    The optimism that AI deep learning technology receives is predicated on the fact that man will have more time for himself as the machines for the work for humans.Despite the plausibility of this promise, it does not rule out the fact that it is still a possibility and it does not mean that it will manifest in actuality anytime soon.

Photo by: Seanbatty via Pixabay

 However, before we dwell on the possible effects of AI, it is also important to discuss the nature of AI as to not fall into the “fear mongering” sickness (as Mark Zuckerberg puts it) that demonize this technological progress.    Whom The Guardian calls the “digital prophet” of our age, Kevin Kelly’s approach towards the issue that AI will take over humanity is very simple: AI is not smarter but different.Kelly demonstrates different forms of cognition among the different types of intelligence within the biosphere as a community of separate minds.For example, a bat’s echolocation trumps human hearing in several different aspects but we do not call it smarter than us.One possible cause of our hostile approach towards AI is its familiarity to human nature since AI deep learning is based on the neural network of the human brain making us more connected to it through the thinking process.This is manifested through the development of a “wet brain” for machines.It is the wetware equivalent of a human brain for AI.However, as Kelly puts it, humans are building a different type of intelligence that exists outside of human intelligence despite the fact that it exceeds human intelligence in several different aspects.    Kelly urges us not to think about intelligence as a linear dimension for it reinforces the “myth” of an infinite measurement of intelligence.He says: 

“There is no other physical dimension in the universe that is infinite, as far as science knows so far.Temperature is not infinite — there is finite cold and finite heat.There is finite space and time.Finite speed.Perhaps the mathematical number line is infinite, but all other physical attributes are finite.It stands to reason that reason itself is finite, and not infinite.”

Therefore, the belief that AI is capable of scaling itself infinitely is denounced by Kelly.It is a reminder that one must keep the vision progressive but realistic.

    In contrast, Elon Musk, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO believes that human and AI integration is necessary for us to survive the AI age.Musk recognizes the threat that AI poses to the human existence especially through deep learning technology.In a sense, while keeping his technological visions within the light of future possibilities, there is a sense of urgency as to how we should also solve the economic problems that will surface provided that AI will be integrated into our system.For Musk, what is essential through these types of innovative AI developments is how AI can amplify the human being.

    With the aforementioned reasons, the current status of AI in the medical field is still promising as it saves time and scales productivity.An observable diminishing factor is the human touch.Doctors have perceived that it is one thing that robots can never do better.The human connection that exists among all of us that is also known as empathy.It is expected that future diagnosis that will be done by AI will be impersonal, yet quick and precise.Perhaps this condition is still irrelevant as of now but the open possibilities are still in front of us.There are still too many things that we can do. 


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