Startup general interest

Artificial intelligence will transform medicine within a decade

By September 23, 2014 One Comment

Vinod Khosla wrote on Techcrunch yesterday about the reinvention of medicine and whilst he didn’t mention artificial intelligence (AI) by name his underlying message was that within a decade AI will transform the way patients are diagnosed and prescribed. Medicine is becoming big data and predictive and learning algorithms are the tools that will drive insight from that data.

The current system isn’t very scientific at all. Khosla describes it thus:

Much of the current practice is driven by conclusions derived from partial information about a patient’s history and symptoms, incomplete medical understanding based as much on opinions as validated science, and interacting subjectively with known and unknown biases of the physician, hospital and healthcare system.

And in the future:

Hundreds of thousands or even millions of data points will go into diagnosing a condition and, equally important, the continual monitoring of a therapy or prescription. Companies like Quanttus are proposing 10,000 vital sign readings per hour, not to mention Applied Proteomics, which already gets 300,000 biomarkers from a blood sample, in addition to thousands of genes, their epigenome, microbiome and more.

During the next decade, we will see systems providing “bionic assistance” to physicians and other healthcare professionals, allowing them to perform at substantially improved levels of expertise like the very best specialists in multiple domains. Inevitably, over 20 years, the majority of physicians’ diagnostic, prescription and monitoring functions will be replaced by smart hardware, software and testing.

Humans simply aren’t good at analysing the volumes of data we will shortly be working with. There will probably still be a role for doctors but it will most likely shift to the empathetic and ethical side of medicine.

Important to note, however, is that early versions of these future systems will most likely seem silly. Khosla makes an analogy with early versions of mobile phones which were attached to the floor of the car and connected with a silly cable. These early systems will be used by far-sighted doctors to improve their patient care and get better over time. It was maybe twenty years after those laughable mobile phones that billions of people had smartphones and there was a vibrant app ecosystem.

All this should lead to big increases in the accuracy and timeliness of diagnoses and big reductions in the cost of healthcare.

Exciting times.

I think we will see similar developments in many other spheres. In step one the AI is laughably silly in some aspects and simply serves to augment the human delivery of service and then in step two the AI starts to replace the human altogether in parts of the service delivery.