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Can A.I. Replace Human Doctors?

After cracking the Enigma, Turing’s Imitation Game laid the foundation of present-day AI, which answers his question in affirmative. Robots pull off the impossible in science fiction, but can this be translated to real life? Will it be possible for systems to think and act humanly and rationally? Aren’t we searching the internet to research symptoms and conditions before making an appointment with the doctor? That's still not the same as trusting an actual person, and some people argue that computers can never replace doctors for that reason. Will medicine as a profession be totally obsolete in the future? Definitely not. Will computers replace doctors for some things? Most probably. If you were, to sum up, the answer to these questions in one word, it would be "depends." The only thing that's certain is that medicine as we know it will change drastically in the future. The Current Use of Robotics in Medicine 1. Robotic surgery: The most common system used is the Da Vinci surgical system, with a 3D camera system that surgeons view on a screen, as well as robotic arms that hold the instruments inside the patient’s body. The system translates a surgeon’s hand movements into much smaller movements inside, allowing for smaller incisions and greater precision. 2. Rehab robotics: Patients with spinal injuries that result in temporary paralysis are being treated with the help of robotics. These machines adapt according to the medical condition of the patient and change their course of action as the rehabilitation of the patient progresses. 3. Computer-Aided diagnostics: Automated systems are being used to analyse the slides meant for the Pap smear, a test that is used to diagnose cervical cancer. The process has been proved to catch more instances of pre-cancerous lesions.

Man vs Machine

A 2017 study out of the Massachusetts General Hospital and MIT showed that an artificial intelligence (AI) system was equal to or better than radiologists, at reading mammograms for high-risk cancer lesions that needed surgery. A year earlier and reported by the Journal of the American Medical Association, Google showed that computers are similar to ophthalmologists at examining retinal images of diabetics. Tech boosters believe that AI will lead to a more evidence-based, personalised care and fewer errors.

Improving diagnostic and therapeutic outcomes through computers is a fantastic innovation, keeping in mind that AI is only as good as the humans programming it, and the system in which it operates. AI and machine learning algorithms majorly rely on the quantities and quality of the data collected by humans. To get accurate data, the machines need us to give them instructions (in the form of code), so that they can do it repeatedly. Once they know everything a doctor knows, they might be able to give a diagnosis and prescribe medication. However, just because a robot is faster than a human being in one aspect of a profession does not mean that it can replace actual human workers. Robotic arms controlled by humans exist, but are there prospects for the creation of a machine with a mind of its own? If so, will doctors be replaced by them? I think not, and here’s why:

1. Robots lack empathy. A robot can perform a critical surgery, but it is not capable of displaying the emotion and sensitivity, that is an essential prerequisite for all good doctors. Evolution is necessary- however; a doctor’s empathy is a factor that should always remain constant.

2. A physician’s job isn’t just to look at reports and determine the problem. There are a lot of cases where the doctor has to come up with the correct diagnosis in an unorthodox fashion, something a robot is not programmed to accomplish. They may be able to provide the data; the complexity of interpretation will always be human territory.

3. There is a saying in the world of AI “GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT”. This refers to the fact that the efficiency of the robot depends on the data fed to it by humans. If there is any sort of error in the information, the robot will continue to blindly go about its routine as it makes the diagnosis. Treating a patient based on false data could lead to disastrous results.

4. While a robot might be able to perform complex surgeries, it can’t really perform CPR or do the Heimlich manoeuvre. The robot may improve efficiency in an office by taking a lot of paperwork off a doctor’s plate; it will never wholly take over the enterprise.

Always A Human Nearby

Robotics will definitely be an additional tool to help improve surgical practices in order to help more people and save more lives. However, the machine would always require a human nearby to review the ethics of its decisions. It may not be a replacement, but can definitely be looked at as an augmentation, a way of double-checking our diagnosis to make it unequivocal. As medical professionals and global citizens, it is therefore important that we understand how to leverage AI tools to complement our skillset and improve access to medical support for billions of people who do not have access to doctors, all for the greater good of humanity. Surangama is a 2nd year medical student at LF1, Charles University and is shouldering various responsibilities. She is a part of the teams handling academic affairs, student support and Alumni Network as a member of LF1 MEDSOC. She aspires to be a cardio-thoracic surgeon.

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