Which would you trust more with your life: a human or a machine? Well, the US Food and Drug Administration recently approved artificial intelligence (AI) software that can interpret medical images without the help of a doctor.
An Eye for an Eye
IDx-DR, developed by IDx LLC, is software that has shown it can identify diabetic retinopathy in special images taken of the back of the eye. Diabetic retinopathy is one of many medical complications that can arise when a person’s blood sugar reaches toxic levels. When high blood sugar levels reach the eye, it can damage the retina, the part of the eye that senses light. This can lead to vision loss, and even blindness.
The software is programmed to look for features a doctor would consider “more than mild diabetic neuropathy,” and then recommend whether the patient should be further examined by a doctor or told to return in a year. With this software, any non-specialized doctor could perform screenings, with patients required to see specialists only when the software determines that there is a need.
The Ethical Debate
While the use of AI software in place of some specialized exams may be exciting, some people have reservations about the ethical implications. Researchers at Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics point out a whole new set of issues can come with automating certain tests. For example, how do a doctor’s responsibilities change with the introduction of new technology? How does this change the doctor’s relationship with their patients? When a machine is collecting large amounts of data, what kinds of expectations can patients have about their privacy in regard to how that data is distributed among other AI services or databases?
These same researchers caution that rejecting this technology isn’t the answer, as AI will inevitably be a part of the future of medicine. Instead, doctors need to understand the limitations and problems that can come with this new technology, so that medicine, and those practicing it, may grow with the advances. After all, what can really replace the human touch?
Is there a way to embrace technology taking over tasks from specialist doctors? Tell us how you feel about this, leave a comment below.