The field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been rapidly growing for the past few decades. This has led to the growing concern, specifically in healthcare, of AI systems replacing human workers.
It is evident that AI systems have already produced improvements.
Dr. Seung-Jae Kim, professor of bioengineering, detailed several advancements currently being made by AI systems in the medical field — specifically advancements made by an AI company named “Deep Mind.” This company has been using AI systems to predict protein structures, which then can be used for a variety of pharmaceutical purposes.
“There are so many protein-based medicines nowadays,” Kim said. “Those protein-based medicines can interfere with some cell signaling mechanisms and prevent the cell from multiplying.”
Their cell-regulating ability allows these protein-based medications to act as anticancer treatments, something that would otherwise be impossible.
Another AI system advancement in healthcare is seen through bioimaging. CT scans, for example, are frequently used in medicine for a variety of diagnoses. However, these scans present a potential hazard as they expose the patient to radiation.
“(Medical professionals) can increase the radioactive amount to get a clear image, but they can damage the human cell,” Kim said. “If they lower the radioactive amount the image is noisy, but nowadays using AI algorithms they can filter out that noise and get a better image.”
EKG machines, used to measure the electrical activity of the heart, have had similar advancements. Dr. Brian Bearie, clinical associate professor currently practicing emergency medicine, explained that with the use of AI, these machines are able to do more interpretation such as detecting heart attacks. However, these machines are not perfect.
“I’ve seen EKG reports that say a patient is having a heart attack but then you go talk to the patient, look at the patient and examine the patient and they’re totally fine,” Bearie said.
This human aspect will likely ensure healthcare jobs. Instead of replacing jobs, AI will transform them.
“You need a physician overseeing all these EKGs,” Bearie said. “But instead of being able to interpret 30 of them in a day, you can interpret hundreds because you are double-checking what the computer is telling you.
In many circumstances, AI systems are more efficient and accurate than their physician counterparts.
Kim said AI systems have the potential to offer better diagnoses than humans. However, due to resistance from healthcare professionals, this type of system is not being utilized to its full potential.
“In the medical field, even though they try to use AI to replace pre-existing systems, there is always backlash from healthcare workers,” Kim said. “People have a really big fear that in the future AI will replace our jobs.”
Mia Tamayo, junior biomedical sciences major and future healthcare professional, has different fears about the future of AI in medicine.
“While I do think that if we allow it, AI can go as far as replacing healthcare professionals and even make it so that I would not be able to be a practicing physician in the future,” Tamayo said. “My fear is more so in what this would do to humanity. What would the world be like if health and care came from something that does not have the capability of compassion and empathy?”
Tamayo embraces the idea of incorporating AI into medicine as a way of improving healthcare outcomes for patients. However, she warns that a replacement of human care would be detrimental.
“There is a huge aspect of patient care that simply cannot be met by AI,” Tamayo said. “This is compassion. Compassion is putting the patient first and looking at a person holistically in efforts to create the best possible treatment plan for them individually.”
Even outside of the medical field, AI systems have the potential to replace jobs. However, in some cases, these may be necessary changes. Kim cited factory jobs as a possible application of AI systems.
“If you go to the factory, they do very repetitive work for many hours,” Kim said. “But in the future with automation and AI systems, those jobs will be replaced. It gives us liberation. We can set a lot of people free who work inside those factories.”
These applications hold exciting possibilities for the future, both in the healthcare field and beyond.
“I do not worry too much about the future,” Kim said. “Maybe in the future we will be required to put more creativity into our work rather than just perform routine work. That routine work and simple work should be replaced by that kind of system.”
Bearie shared a similar optimism about the future of AI in healthcare.
“I think medicine is probably a late adapter as far as incorporating AI,” Bearie said. “But it’s definitely here and it will be here forever.”