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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is gaining momentum in healthcare. A burst of health-tech apps, cloud connections and 3D printers have propelled the under-funded behemoth of our beloved NHS forward. But how is AI used specifically? And will you feel its effects any time soon?
It's the simulation of human intelligence by machines. We're far from the days of Terminator and Skynet (we hope), but AI is certainly becoming more useful. Its ability to hold and scan innumerable pieces of data is unmatchable by humans.
Up to now AI has mostly been exploratory 'proving the concept' pilot studies and tests, but now we're starting to see AI in action. For example researchers in Swansea have functioning AI computer program algorithms that can detect cancer cells.
These algorithms use technology much like fingerprint recognition and the computer, with its infinite ability to remember, can recognise and pinpoint certain cells. This is good news as it can speed up diagnosis times. The algorithm can also determine a cell's age, which helps doctors as cancer treatments often depend of the cell's lifecycle.
It's thought AI will grow tenfold in five years and make more than six billion dollars from health care providers as they buy new technologies for health. Experts believe AI will be regularly used in all fields of medicine, from weight-loss coaching through to diagnosis of illness.
Verkat Raja of the Frost & Sullivan research firm says that AI won't replace doctors; it will support and help them avoid mistakes. With our NHS under strain and our medical staff working extra hours, it'll be a welcome crutch. 'They're stressed, they've got a million different things they're looking at' he says.
When AI diagnoses a patient in future it's likely to weigh in more factors that a human can, and it's far faster too. Symptoms, weight, previous illness, residence and pollution factors, age, and x-rays results can all be concluded in a few seconds to provide doctors with a number of conclusions and even a percentage confidence rate in the outcome.
Health tech is already taking people into the realms of self-diagnosis and management, but in the future AI will provide many more support tools. Google can provide an unverified diagnosis, but can an AI doctor app make a better one taking into account lifestyle and personal details? Of course it can.
Then what's to stop AI suggesting a way forward? Well, nothing. AI might cut down the amount of time we spend at the doctor's surgery, lessening their burden and empowering us to take more responsibility for our own health.
There are people who talk about the lights going out. What will happen when we overpopulate the world and electricity is off for 12 hours out of 24? How will we cope with life then if AI makes all our decisions? Some experts worry AI is going too far, and will actually make us less capable.
Still, the future of healthcare is without doubt tied up with Al support. It makes sense, if only for the vast amounts of memory computers have at their disposal.