The second half of the 20 century appeared to be a tough time for the technology of artificial intelligence. Back in 1980s appeared a term “AI-winter” that illustrated a rather pessimistic attitude towards the technology, which in fact ment cut of funding and interest. How does the situation look today? AI-applications are deeply embedded into many industries as well as in our everyday life. Spending time and money on AI research is no longer a disputable issue. AI-winter definitely passed, while the hot summer is here to stay. We already got used to such things as face and speech recognition, big data processing, robotics, etc.
Healthcare is not an exception. A lot of medical institutions use AI applications to improve health maintenance. Big companies like Google or IBM, as well as a number of start-ups are developing healthcare-related AI algorithms and their potential is rather promising. AI is useful both in treatment and medical maintenance. It is used to collect, process and analyse data, expand genomic sequencing databases, implement electronic health record systems. AI helps develop natural language processing and computer vision, get and analyse data provided by different health trekkers, advance rehabilitation and choose the most suitable treatment. Healthcare-related AI applications are also used to enhance the precision of robot-assisted surgery. AI provides tools to receive, process and analyse data quickly and that is what healthcare is actually about. A patient is examined and questioned by a doctor, then they undergo different medical tests. It is crucial to get all necessary information about each patient so as to assign а right therapy.
Development of drugs can require years or even decades for all the necessary clinical trials to be completed. AI can speed up this process. In 2015 a company Atomwise used supercomputer and neural networks to develop effective medications against Ebola virus disease. Scientists managed to achieve results in one single day that would normally take months or years of research. The use of AI in the creation and testing of medical drugs can ensure faster reaction on epidemic, prevent or at least lower the number of casualties and stop spread of diseases.
In 2016 World Economic Forum included open AI ecosystems in the list of top-10 emerging technologies. Natural language processing, social awareness algorithms and analysis of holistic health-related personal data (medical record, treatment, health trekkers) can create an entire ecosystem around us and help effectively create an individual healthy lifestyle paradigm. This will significantly advance prevention and control of diseases, prolongate life and improve its quality.
Virtual reality technologies potential for healthcare should be also mentioned. VR can help develop autism and pervasive developmental disorders therapy that is aimed on the person’s communication skills improvement. This technology can be especially helpful for children who would be able go to a virtual tour around the planet and watch animals in the wild instead of playing with their stuffed copies. In similar ways VR is also useful in education.
Embodied Labs developed a VR product that enables medical students and young doctors to experience how elderly patients with particular health problems see, hear and feel. According to the developers, this will help bridge the gap between generations and provide doctors with better understanding of elderly healthcare consumers.
Anyway, AI is a future of most of our activity including healthcare, where it will be widely applied. In spite of all the usefulness that “healthcare mechanization” brings, many complex problems should still be faced. They have to do not only with technology, but also with ethics. The humanity will have to solve these problems while being on the edge of the bigger technological transformations of our society.