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August 31, 2016

Are we at the threshold of the 'age of automation' in Healthcare?

Posted by Ravikiran Taire (View Profile | View All Posts) at 5:51 AM

Are we at the threshold of the 'age of automation' in Healthcare?

Purposeful automation and artificial intelligence are not only revolutionizing the relationship between doctor and patient, they are also transforming the way all kinds of processes - from medical imaging to surgery - take place. For instance, I was amazed to read recently that scientists had discovered 97 new areas of the brain. This, even though mapping the human brain has been a 100-year quest in the field of neuroscience. How did the major new discovery happen? Don't be surprised, but this was achieved by using automation and machine learning to map the brain's cerebral cortex.

The latest findings will, according to the academic paper's authors, "enable substantially improved neuroanatomical precision for studies of the structural and functional organization of human cerebral cortex and its variation across individuals and in development, aging, and disease." Simply put, unlocking the brain means unlocking potential cures to many elusive and deadly conditions and diseases. Or at the very least, doctors will be able to determine how certain neurological disorders occur in the first place.

Studying certain parts of the brain often had to be done post-mortem. But now, with purposeful automation, repetitive tasks can be handled by machines, thus freeing people to focus on intelligent tasks that can deliver higher value and innovation. Additionally, with machine learning, researchers can use tools such as magnetic resonance imaging to map the brain of healthy adults. The researchers in this particular study said that they taught a machine-learning 'classifier' to detect complex 'fingerprints' of each area of the cerebral cortex. The more the classifier recognized the fingerprints, the smarter it got - even to the point where it could tell researchers that a certain part of a test subject's brain did not conform to the norm.

The story of how health sciences are using A.I. to delve deeper into the human body than ever before is very exciting. The brain mapping achievement proves that A.I. can help doctors and scientists. And I have no doubt that it will soon come to the aid of surgeons who need to perform incredibly delicate operations that push the limits of science, as well.

Indeed, even though A.I. has been a topic of discussion among scientists for decades, only now are we beginning to make the kind of strides needed to reach what's known as "singularity." That's the point at which a machine can learn as quickly and robustly as a human. Most experts agree that attaining singularity is still a few decades away, but what an exciting few decades, therefore, are in front of us. And no, singularity will not result in the development of killer robots taking over the human race. Instead, it is more likely to involve machine implants in the body that can help blind people see, wheelchair-bound people walk, and small triggers within the immune system that fight off a disease, when one is detected inside the body. Or how about this? If you wanted to communicate with someone, you would be able to think of that person and your brain, aided by computers, could automatically reach that person. You could chat or text through your thoughts - no keyboards needed!

In other words, there's a reason why purposeful automation and artificial intelligence are being developed so rapidly and enthusiastically by scientists in the medical field. They know that these technologies will be able to enhance and amplify all that is great about human life and at the same time rid the world of the diseases that afflict so many people.

One of the most outspoken experts on the wonderful possibilities inherent in purposeful automation and artificial intelligence is the scientist and futurist Ray Kurzweil. He recently pointed out something that should give us all something to think about: If we were to stop all functions related to purposeful automation and artificial intelligence today, we wouldn't be able to communicate with each other by telephone or the Internet, airplanes would be grounded, and you wouldn't be able to access any of your money in financial institutions. This would not have been the case just 10 years ago. So, yes, whether you realize it or not, purposeful automation and artificial intelligence have made huge leaps in just a decade. So try to imagine what life will look like in another 10 or 20 years. The possibilities in healthcare and other industries are boundless.

The full-blown capabilities of machine learning and purposeful automation are in the offing. The fact that artificial brains are helping us learn more about our own is a harbinger of an "age of automation" that will transform society for the better.

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