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What Does AI Mean for the Future of Healthcare?

Meryl Davids Landau


Apr 2, 2024

In the 1960s, viewers of TV’s Star Trek were amazed when Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy scanned a patient’s body using a handheld “tricorder” device whose artificial intelligence (AI) quickly generated a diagnosis. More recently, however, the excitement about AI in health care has been tempered by a fair amount of dread: Will caring doctors be replaced by unfeeling robots, robbing medicine of the human warmth and intuition integral to healing?

The only thing we know for sure is that we will soon find out. Major technological advances in recent years mean AI is coming to medicine faster than many of us might have thought. In some ways, it’s already here. “It’s currently being used, and soon we’ll see a lot more applications. Artificial intelligence will be embedded in almost all aspects of health care,” predicts Thomas M. Maddox, M.D., a cardiologist and vice president of digital products and innovation at BJC HealthCare and Washington University in St. Louis. AI tech budgets at health care companies are expected to grow to 11% this year, from 6% in 2022. And while there are still plenty of worries about how AI might worsen care, it is saving lives. What exactly is AI? The term refers to computerized tools that mimic aspects of human intelligence, learning continually over time the way people do. Siri and Alexa use AI to answer your questions, and credit card companies rely on it to spot shopping patterns that might indicate fraud. There are several types of AI: One is deep learning, which detects patterns people might miss. Another, known as generative AI (ChatGPT is the best-known example), uses reams of data to create new content.