Doctor Robot will see you now

19 June 2017 - 07:35
Are robot doctors the wave of the future?
Image: iStock Are robot doctors the wave of the future?

Your next doctor could very well be a bot. And bots, or automated programmes, are likely to play a key role in finding cures for some of the most difficult-to-treat diseases and conditions.

Artificial intelligence is rapidly moving into healthcare, led by technology companies using it to diagnose and respond to a raft of conditions.

California researchers detected cardiac arrhythmia with 97% accuracy on wearers of an Apple Watch with the AI-based cardiogram application, opening up early treatment options to avert strokes.

Scientists from Harvard and the University of Vermont developed a machine-learning tool - a type of AI that enables computers to learn without being explicitly programmed - to better identify depression by studying Instagram posts, suggesting "new avenues for early screening and detection of mental illness".

Researchers from the UK's University of Nottingham created an algorithm that predicted heart attacks better than doctors using conventional guidelines.

A wave of investment from Silicon Valley and a flood of data from connected devices appear to be spurring innovation.

"A tipping point was when Apple released its Research Kit," said analyst Kate McCarthy, referring to a program letting Apple users enable data from their activities to be used in medical studies.

McCarthy said advances in AI have opened up new possibilities for "personalised medicine" adapted to individual genetics.

AI can also be used to glean new insights from existing data, such as electronic health records and lab tests, said Narges Razavian, a professor at New York University who led a research project on predictive analytics for more than 100 medical conditions.

"Our work is looking at trends and trying to predict [disease] six months into the future, to be able to act before things get worse," Razavian said.

Researchers analysed medical and lab records to predict accurately the onset of dozens of diseases and conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart or kidney failure and stroke.

Google's DeepMind division is using AI to help doctors analyse tissue samples to determine the likelihood that breast and other cancers will spread and develop the best radiotherapy treatments.

Microsoft, Intel and other tech giants are also working with researchers to sort through data with AI to better understand and treat lung, breast and other types of cancer.

Google parent Alphabet's life sciences unit Verily has joined Apple in releasing a smartwatch for studies, including one to identify patterns in the progression of Parkinson's disease.

Amazon offers medical advice through applications on its voice-activated artificial assistant, Alexa.

IBM has been focusing on these issues with its Watson Health unit, which uses "cognitive computing" to help understand cancer and other diseases.