When we hear the term “artificial intelligence,” our minds often go to nefarious robots or the possibility of losing our jobs to a machine. After all, Stephen Hawking once warned that AI could “spell the end of the human race.” It is one of the reasons we prefer the term “augmented intelligence” over “artificial intelligence.” It just sounds less threatening.
Regardless of the preferred term, AI is far more likely to enhance and advance humanity than to end it. Right now, AI is being used to lower the cost of healthcare, make it more efficient, and improve outcomes. Algorithms mimicking human-level cognition in “understanding” massive volumes of healthcare data accelerate and better inform clinicians’ decisions.
Additionally, the high-touch field of medicine requires us to use both the power of technology and the power of human intuition to examine the entire context of the clinical and patient experience. Case in point — the technology used to predict heart disease relies on body mass index, blood pressure, and other health markers. Sometimes, it is possible for the data to falsely categorize a patient as healthy without the likelihood or risk of a cardiac event. But a physician who observes the same patient and determines if he or she is unfit, generally unwell and/or socially isolated, can understand the full context of patient health. In this scenario, the cardiac algorithm deeming the patient as “heart-healthy” is not nearly as valuable as the physician’s insight.
Another example comes from a clinical trial started about ten years ago; an immunotherapy drug appeared to show poor potential for fighting cancer. Researchers were about to cancel the trial because the data and CAT scans revealed the drug was not reducing the size of the tumors, in fact they were growing larger. Before canceling the clinical trial, one of the doctors asked patients how they were feeling, and each patient reported feeling better. The doctor then responded with follow-up questions, gaining insight from responses the standard data fields simply would not have unveiled. He found that while the scans showed the tumors were growing, they were growing with cancer fighting T-Cells, not the cancer itself. The patients’ sense of relief tipped off the clinician, allowing the clinical trial to continue, which yielded one of the major drugs we use today to fight solid tumor cancers.
Real breakthroughs in medicine will not be achieved only via new technologies, but by integrating technology with the input of research professionals who are knowledgeable and experienced. This is augmented intelligence at work.
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