When I first saw in Star Wars the 2-1B droid, an android programmed to diagnose and treat all kinds of diseases and injuries, I thought it was a mere fantasy. But now, grown up to be a medical student, here I am in the age of that mere fantasy about to become a reality. Attempts utilizing AI in the area of healthcare is already ongoing, and they have actually been quite successful. So, when will human doctors be replaced by AI M.D.?
The coming age of AI M.D.?
It seems like the emerge of AI M.D. is not that far away. Being a good doctor requires two skills: knowledge and experience. Facing a new patient, he instantly integrates what he knows from textbooks with what he experienced in the past, making the best decision. AI would be too good at this game. It would have a massive reference database, and be capable of effectively teaching itself to differentiate diseases and to choose suitable medication through deep learning (and they could get way better than human doctors!).
Nevertheless, I say the AI M.D. takeover will not happen.
Working in the hospital, I’ve seen so many patients who suffer from uncommon symptoms, ineffective treatment, and uncertain causes. Too many whys exist in actual medical practice. Textbooks and work experience do not provide doctors with the answer to every single question. Still, doctors are always responsible for determining the next steps.
Clues can be anywhere: latest research papers, opinions of fellow doctors, or sometimes pure inspiration. We need to look all over for them. However, the essence here is not where to, but how to. What we have, but AI does not, is – this is the third skill essential for a good doctor – the passion and motivation towards unravelling what is yet unknown. Without these, we could never solve the countless mysteries we face in daily clinical practice.
We may rely on AI if the human body is functioning based on biological theory. But when it isn’t (and it usually isn’t), AI does not have any explanatory power. The human body is too weird for AI M.D. to handle. This weirdness is what makes us human, and as long as we stay human, there will be plenty of space for human doctors.