Why Artificial Intelligence Excites Me, Then Worries Me

patchAugust 27

Twitter is something else.  I signed up to Twitter a few years back, but never really did anything with it – mainly because I didn’t really understand how to leverage it to the fullest.  Fast forward to roughly a month ago and I’m a tweeting – bordering addicted – fiend.  If (the optimist in me says when) you check out my Twitter page (@randomRPL) you’ll notice that I tweet a lot.  Like all the time.  And it’s not a bot or HootSuite managing my social media.  This is me when I have a few minutes of free time.  I’m fortunate enough to live in a city with a solid public transit system, so that’s where I spend quality time on the Twitterverse.  But don’t worry, this is borderline addiction is moderated by my regular yoga practice at my local yoga studio.  Yes, I practice yoga.  Yes, it gives me some zen.  And yes, my addiction to social media is on the healthy side – there’s a method to my Twitter madness.  So, don’t panic…yet…I’ll let you know when to panic when I literally type “PANIC” below.

Featured in this morning’s Washington Post: Express this morning was a piece titled, “Look, D.C., no hands!”  Yes, the driverless car made it to the streets of DC for a test run.  I can only imagine how entertaining it must have been to witness the experiment in person.  How exciting is it that we are finally at the point where the science-fiction futuristic movies are finally turning into reality?  Remember TimeCop back in the 90s?  I know someone else saw that movie, so save the eye rolling for policy debates and all the inaction happening in Congress.

Here’s where my excitement stalls.  The authors describe that computers can detect certain things that happen – in this case a police officer managing the flow of traffic – but it cannot (at least at this point) detect the context of any situation – at least not as of this round of testing.  If you have ever driven in Washington, you know how completely nuts it is out there.  If you have not driven in Washington, please save yourself the road rage and stress and stay on public transit, taxi, Uber, Capital BikeShare or just walk it out.

I have complete faith and trust that Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology will continue to progress towards the sophistication and understanding that human beings possess.  I am excited to see the next generation of technology.  Heck, I would probably ride in a driverless car in the near future if given the opportunity.  But on two conditions: 1) the AI technology has to be sophisticated enough to understand and react to contextual factors (e.g. road rage) and 2) it would have to be in a less dense setting.  Innovation has come so far and we have that much further to go…

Which brings us into my favorite topic: healthcare.  How can we innovate in this field to deliver our patients – friends, family members and ourselves – quality health care that leverages technology to automate a variety of time-intensive, laborious things?  Twitter is one example of innovative, disruptive technology.  It not only delivers consumable pieces of information in real-time, but its technology also recommends connecting with other individuals based on similar interests.  Maneesh Juneja and I were matched via this Twitter algorithm and I could not be more grateful to the Twitterverse for this.  Maneesh is a digital health guru and is well-versed in future technologies to improve health.  He is constantly tweeting and in a sense, teaching a virtual class on health innovation.  I feel privileged enough to be in the front row and enjoy reading many of the articles he links to from his handle @maneeshjuneja.  Another teacher of mine in the Twitterverse is Dr. Kevin Pho of KevinMD.  Dr. Pho curates the most relevant articles in the field and tweets them to his 100,000+ followers.  The topic of robots in healthcare triggered in my mind when reading the driverless car article.  There are a few articles on the site that are worth reviewing: Robot Caregivers; How Robots Will Teach Us Who We Are As Humans; and Will Robots Reduce the Need for Doctors?  All three feed into a dialogue that we should be having on a larger scale.  Are certain technologies capable of easing the burden on healthcare professionals in a way that it does not jeopardize health outcomes?

Let’s circle back to the points I brought up about AI and context.  Imagine a robot with its sophisticated computer systems having to understand the contextual nuances as it relates to a healthcare setting.  Healthcare providers are already facing overwhelming demands when it comes to delivering quality healthcare to their patients all while balancing the needs of the business side of things – reimbursement claims, proper and secure patient records and malpractice, among other pressing issues.  The million dollar question is how can we integrate appropriate AI technology to ease the burden on health care providers?

As I stated earlier, in order to have me ride in a driverless car, the situation would need to address my aforementioned conditions.  In the healthcare world, I cannot even imagine how many more conditions are necessary before I could trust my own health and well-being in the hands of a robot, regardless of how sophisticated their AI technology might be.

Now is the time to PANIC.  I throw that word out there not to panic for the technology itself, but because the discussions we are having on healthcare at this point are simply useless.  The most talked about topic in healthcare is on reforming, repealing or strengthening the Affordable Care Act.  I completely understand that this is an important piece of legislation that needs to be handled appropriately and I also understand that it is not perfect.  But all the divisive rhetoric being slung from both sides are not productive.  The worries flowing from my mind have to do with the lack of focus, vision and discussion on innovative solutions to move our country, collectively, forward.

Let’s not forget that health knows no party line.  And neither does compassion.

“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” — General George Patton


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