When we think of AI and automation, we naturally start thinking of easy, repetitive and generally boring jobs that will become totally automated with the help of modern software and robots. Warehouses of large e-commerce stores are becoming automated with machines that pick out the orders, pack them up and get them ready for shipping. Totally autonomous.
Another thought that quickly comes to mind when talking about AI, is the self-driving car that many companies are investing big money into as we speak. I believe that the self-driving vehicles are arriving faster then many people suspect. Tesla has provided every car coming off the line since September 2014 with the ‘autopilot’ hardware and started updating the software to actually make use of that hardware in 2015 with the first meaningful ‘autopilot update’ in October of 2015. Other car manufacturers have been testing autonomous driving systems since the early 2000’s (in regular consumer vehicles). To put that in perspective, that’s a couple of years before the first iPhone came out. That came with a 480 x 320-pixel screen and the biggest amount of storage available was 16GB. Ten years later, we have the iPhone X with a 2436 x 1125-pixel screen and 256 GB of storage space. For double the price, I might add.
So it isn’t that ludicrous to think that in 2025, the technology of what Tesla provided with their ‘autopilot’ in 2015, will be over 10-times more capable of what it was just 3 years ago.
If this will by then (2025) be the driving standard, is a question for another time and it personally seems unlikely to me due to the lifetime of cars manufactured today and the hefty price tag these modern driving wonders will have. But I do believe, that the technology will be there in order to make it the standard.
So why is the medical world at risk?
Besides the automotive industry and the digital servants like Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Echo, healthcare is becoming a lead industrial area in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and technology developments in general. A key area of growth in service robotics can be found in the medical field. Some surgeries today have been transformed due to robotics. One step before total automation is the help from robotics that is still controlled by humans. An example can be found in the surgical robot from University Hospitals Leuven (KU-Leuven) that performed a precision-injection in a patients retinal vein occlusion.
While this is a very impressive machine that can be used to treat patients better than ever before, I think healthcare will move closer to prevention and personalization in the future, and there already are some developed players currently proving that will be the case.
Take 23andMe for example. For a mere 199 of your finest US Dollars, you can get a detailed report about health risks that were found in people with a similar genetic structure to yours, what the chances are you carry a certain inheritable condition, as well as your ancestry, wellness and general traits of people with the same genetic structure.
The fact that you can do these, all be it in some cases basic, tests on a consumer level for less than half the price of a new iPhone in 2007, is mind-boggling to me. These results are your crystal ball to look into the future and you can prepare yourself for what might be happening to you in terms of your health. It becomes really interesting when you learn that the results will only become more complete and accurate as time goes on and more people send in their data.
People will want to take control of their own health.
The rise of the smartwatch, and then particularly the smartwatch with a focus on healthcare as Fitbit for example, is another way for people to proactively work on their personal health. Besides hardware technology, we see the biggest changes in computing and analyzing data where time-consuming tasks are becoming obsolete with software programs that are built to scan and analyze studies in seconds and are built to do it faster and more accurate as they learn. Will this result in a loss of jobs in the medical sector? Maybe, as it will also create jobs. Learning these algorithms the things it has to know is an enormously difficult task.
When you have a medical problem you visit a doctor who, in the best case, will provide you with a solution to those problems after a quick examination.
I believe that in the future, there will be an artificial intelligence software that analyses the information and compares it to the information it has gathered from hundreds of millions of people and therefore will have much more knowledge than a doctor has today. In the first stages, both the software and the doctor will work together in providing the best solution for the patient. The artificial intelligence will become smarter over time, but a human touch, definitely in a sector so personal as healthcare, can’t be overlooked easily.
Large chain pharmacies may want to start thinking about delivering prescription drugs to the patient in need. As crowdsourcing is here to stay and same-day delivery will become more important as customers keep valuing speed, steps have to be undertaken now. The balance between the labor and speed is totally different when you compare a regular store to healthcare. When you’re looking to buy a new computer screen, it doesn’t matter if it arrives a day after you bought it online. But the reason pharmacy delivering services haven’t been rolled out to the masses, is because with health, people tend to prioritize the urgency. You have a health issue that may or may not be established by a medical institution, and you want to tackle this concern immediately. This balance is moving more towards speed and less to labor in every sector, it’s only logical that healthcare will have to accommodate eventually.
“When we think of AI and automation, we naturally start thinking of easy, repetitive and generally boring jobs that will become totally automated with the help of modern software and robots.” – was the first sentence of this article. What’s going to happen when large numbers of high and narrow skilled workers are superseded?
Is it justifiable?
Although modern technology, especially in healthcare, will be able to help a patient much faster and much more precise, it still comes with a bitter taste of unfairness and I believe many people don’t think they’ll live to see the day that it will overtake us and the jobs of today. To those people, I want to ask to please reconsider. Take a moment and think about the iPhone in 2007 and 2017. Or even the evolution of the personal computer in under 40 years time. We’ve gone from a large, expensive machine that could just make a somewhat difficult calculation to a computer smaller than the size of a credit card that is 1000 times more powerful for just 10$.
Think of where the medical world stands today and we can’t even fantasize what’s going to be possible in 40 years time. I don’t want you to be scared of the future, but I do encourage everyone to look at their respective job and sector and keep an eye out for new developments so you are ready to jump the train and secure your career’s future when, and not if, the inevitable tsunami of modern technology sweeps through.