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Just what the doctor ordered

Published Aug 10, 2018 10:37am
How AI is delivering wonders in healthcare.

According to Stephen Colbert, we shouldn’t fear artificial intelligence (AI); we should fear natural stupidity!

Indeed, ‘AI’ has re-emerged as a buzzword in recent years, particularly with respect to smartphones and connected gadgets and appliances. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a platform which enables machines ranging from doorbells to light bulbs to fridges to washing machines to collate and analyse data and perform specific actions accordingly. So, for example, if someone rings your smart doorbell and you are not home, the bell will make a video call to your phone and show you a live feed of the visitor or connected bulbs change their intensity according to your preferences.

The emerging devices require little or no user input. Smart assistants like Google Now and Siri learn your usage habits, browsing preferences and schedule and push information and content to you. However, given their capacity to gather and analyse data and these devices can do much, much more. It is safe to say that AI is enabling us to process a lot more data than humanly possible and, more importantly, derive meaning from it.

In the field of medicine, which is ever more dependent on data analysis as much as human skill and learning, AI is delivering wonders. In healthcare, AI uses algorithms and software to approximate human cognition in the analysis of complex medial data and then to approximate conclusions without direct human input.


The applications for AI in medicine go beyond data crunching: diagnostic algorithms are being developed that process and interpret data in nanoseconds. Similarly, AI-powered surgical robots can carry out precise surgery, armed with an entire library’s worth of information and sensors that exceed the sensitivity of human limbs.


As far back as 2003, a landmark was achieved when scientists announced that human genome had been fully coded to the accuracy of 99.99%. The three billion ‘letters’ of the human gene were laid bare for all to see. Unknowingly, most of us have been using AI for medical insights for years. Websites such as WebMD specialise in diagnosing illnesses based on symptoms. As the years go by and more information is added to the internet, such systems are becoming smarter (this is where the intelligence in AI comes from). It is not far-fetched to imagine a scenario where AI will one day replace general physicians, if not specialists.

The applications for AI in medicine go beyond data crunching: diagnostic algorithms are being developed that process and interpret data in nanoseconds. Similarly, AI-powered surgical robots can carry out precise surgery, armed with an entire library’s worth of information and sensors that exceed the sensitivity of human limbs.

Recently, an AI system beat some of China’s top doctors with respect to diagnosing brain tumours and predicting hematoma expansion. As reported by Xinhua, the ‘BioMind’, was developed by the Artificial Intelligence Research Centre for Neurological Disorders at Beijing Tiantan Hospital.

For the first time in human history, the skill, knowledge and dexterity of medical professionals are under threat. However, like the internet, AI is not destined to supplant human thought. Rather, it enriches it by taking away the menial aspects of medical practice (such as data analysis, the need to hone physical skills and having to commit entire books to memory). Free of administrative and tedious burdens, medical professionals will be at liberty to explore, analyse, invent and experiment.

We can all agree that this is just what the doctor ordered.

Talha bin Hamid is an accountant by day and an opinionated observer of pop culture, an avid reader, a gamer and an all-around nerd by night.