So, according to a recent report from PwC, 66% of people in the Middle East are willing to replace human doctors with AI and robots. But many others have warned of the dangers from AI. Elon Musk, the tech billionaire behind reusable space rockets and self-driving cars, has set up a “billion dollar fund” to save the world from AI. So should we be excited about the prospect of AI over human doctors, or should we be worried – it is our health after all?
It all starts with what you consider AI to mean. AI can be described as:
“the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages”
“the intelligence of a machine that could successfully perform any intellectual task that a human being can”
It turns out views on AI vary hugely depending on the definition. In a 2016 YouGov survey for the British Science Association it is reported that 70% of respondents were happy for intelligent machines to carry out simple tasks, like crop monitoring, but only 23% would be happy when talking about medical operations in hospitals (subtly different to diagnosing, monitoring, and advising on health conditions highlighted in the PwC report).
Perhaps we would be happy to see a rise of robot lawyers like “donotpay.co.uk”, a free on-line service that fights parking tickets on your behalf, but not humanoid robots like Ava from the popular science fiction film Ex Machina.
Should we be worried about AI and robots making GPs jobless and potentially creeping into our lives. Or should we start making plans for the time we will be saving in the future?
Babylon has already made progress in putting a GP in your pocket. But this combines AI with professionals. Perhaps the “A” really stands for augmented. The augmented intelligence simply helps connect people to experts – rather than replacing the experts. It becomes a tool to help efficiently organise information so that experts can do what they are best at doing – actually interacting and caring for patients.
The BBC programme Hospital, which was broadcast last year, showed some of the administrative challenges faced by hospital staff on a daily basis. Pieces of equipment being moved between hospitals, surgical lists being rearranged or cancelled due to a lack of beds. If AI can help solve some of these challenges and also take the pressure off front line staff then perhaps we should embrace the future and ask what problems AI can solve, rather than asking if AI is a problem to solve.