Would You Trust Your Doctor or an AI Machine?

It is a natural instinct to have a fear of the dark, of what that symbolizes the unknown. We have seen the raw potential of what AI could achieve several years ago. It didn’t concern me then but now it does. (A star-wars reference it is)

Is Deep learning progressing towards the darker side of Artificial Intelligence? The creators itself no longer know how the AI they built works or how it got the output or the conclusion that it shows.

A few years down the line, it is highly likely that a google search result for “The world’s best doctor?” could show the name of an AI Machine. If you had guessed IBM Watson would be that name, you might be almost right. While it is a bold statement to say that AI will completely replace Doctors, but it is highly likely that it will be the case at some point in the distant future. This may not mean the end of Doctors as a profession, but it is just that their purpose will be redefined. AI has never been this close, not just in functioning on par with humans but in fact surpassing them at several instances and by huge magnitudes. IBM Watson gives us some of the most prominent examples.

“If Artificial Intelligence was a religion, IBM Watson would be their God”

The Potential Today:

As the day passes by, the amount of data we generate is increasing swiftly, which includes medical literature and patient case studies as well. AI machines basically feed on this data to gain insights and identify new patterns that are previously unknown. The primary function of a doctor is diagnosing a medical condition. In the modern world, almost all diagnosis is done through machines, but in most cases, it’s the doctor who decides how to diagnose and there is always a room for error and delay. AI machines under development today have to potential to accurately diagnose patients with various medical illness and even recommend a treatment strategy.

For example, in a recent study, IBM Watson took as little as just 10 minutes to study a patient’s condition and suggest a treatment plan. Doctors, for such a case, would have taken about 160 hours to analyze all the patient data and come up with a treatment plan. Research also shows that IBM Watson suggested almost the same treatment plan as any regular oncologist in 99% of the cancer cases. In that same study, it has in fact offered extra options of treatment in 30% of cases which the doctors have missed.

It must be agreed, AI machines are no less than a human doctor in diagnosis and providing treatment options, if not better. It might only be a matter of time before it completely starts to dominate the healthcare industry.

A Question of the Ethics:

Coming back to the title of this article, how would the common man react to these technological changes? Would one prefer to consult a robot over a human in the time of need? More than that, the question of the hour is, would you trust a robot more than a human, especially when your life is at stake? There have always been cases where patients have lost their lives due to medical negligence or due to incorrect treatment approaches by the doctors for which they are answerable. But what if a machine makes a mistake that costs the life of a person? Who is answerable then?

In what appears to be a double-edged sword, further analysis may reveal something ever darker.

A 2016 article by Harvard Business Review has the following lines in it,

“The claim that the professions are immune to displacement by technology is usually based on two assumptions: that computers are incapable of exercising judgment or being creative or empathetic, and that these capabilities are indispensable in the delivery of professional service. The first problem with this position is empirical. As our research shows, when professional work is broken down into component parts, many of the tasks involved turn out to be routine and process-based. They do not in fact call for judgment, creativity, or empathy.”

This is an intense argument and one of the professions in question here was doctors as well. Someone might argue, judgment, creativity, or empathy, all three are highly necessary to excel in the medical profession. Can machines ever be empathetic to understand the patient’s woes? Despite knowing that it is far from reach, will humans prefer machines over doctors?

A Speculation for the Future of Healthcare:

These perspectives leave us with more questions than answers. AI is certainly revolutionizing health care, but will it come with a cost? Currently, AI has only been assisting doctors to treat and diagnose better but as more advancements happen, doctors will be the ones probably assisting AI for it to function better. In time, it is likely that majority of the common masses would start to prefer to be treated by machines owing to the success rate and accuracy over doctors even if they are reluctant at the beginning.

Answering the title question, I would perhaps trust neither. What we trust is what we believe and what we believe isn’t necessarily the truth. We believe more in a calculator than in a human when it comes to math, as simple as that. Beliefs are based on past experiences, the success rates, the statistics, and proven track record. Compared to humans, machines outperform here well, even in the field of medicine.

I would rather say, “I believe in machines more than in humans but I don’t really trust them and I would put my trust in humans to build those machines to be more safe, efficient and secure but I don’t really believe in them in achieving it!”

This article was first published on LinkedIn here.


Would You Trust Your Doctor or an AI Machine? was originally published in The Research Nest on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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