Let’s Talk About A.I.

Blog post by Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA.

Investment in artificial intelligence (A.I.) has skyrocketed over the past several years. One study suggests 80 percent of the enterprises it surveyed have some form of A.I. in production today and 30 percent plan to expand A.I. investment over the next 36 months. Health care has the most robust A.I. startup scene of any sector: as of February 2017, there were 106 A.I. startups in the industry. Seventy launched in the last year alone. While there is tremendous excitement surrounding A.I. activity, there is also considerable fear, confusion and resistance. It strikes me that the way we talk about A.I. could assuage concerns and that the time to talk about this is now.

Concern over how A.I. will impact our future is understandable. Our imaginations draw from literature and Hollywood to envision the gravity of missteps or abuse (think Terminator, I, Robot, The Matrix, or Westworld). In the real world, news coverage tracks the global race to harness A.I.:  This past July, China announced its “New Generation Artificial Intelligence Development Plan.” Russian President Vladimir Putin recently said that the country that becomes “the leader in this [A.I.] sphere will become the ruler of the world.” Innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk has warned that A.I. presents a “fundamental existential risk for human civilization,” and that the global race for the A.I. supremacy may be the most likely cause of a third world war.

On the other hand, a report commissioned by the U.K. government and published this fall concluded with a rationale for increasing investment: “A.I. offers massive gain in efficiency and performance to most or all industry sectors, from drug discovery to logistics.” We in health care innovation are especially aware of the beneficent potential for A.I.: Technology that could swiftly review hundreds of thousands of medical journals to ensure no newer, more suitable treatment path exists; algorithms able to predict who may be at risk for a heart attack and when; and solutions able to guide less experienced clinicians in interpreting images, helping them identify a diagnosis that may have otherwise been missed.

With so much potential for progress, how can we ensure we’re positioned to welcome this next wave of technology without being blinded by the buzzwords, and numbed by the nomenclature?

We must empower understanding so we can embrace what we support and challenge that which we don’t. I believe the language needed for these discussions is missing. As a starting point, many are not familiar with existing A.I. terminology and relationships between technologies. After all, TIME’s recent Special Edition Artificial Intelligence, The Future of Humankind kicked off with a glossary of A.I. terms. I like this diagram from Geospatial World that outlines several A.I. definitions and relationships.


For those trying to understand A.I. at a technical level, a glossary or diagram like the above is helpful. But what about those struggling to understand how A.I. will impact their lives?

Let’s be clear. Let’s be transparent. Let’s prove value. Let’s remove fear with straightforward, descriptive language. Let’s see if the way we communicate about A.I. impacts our attitudes toward it. Let’s also take a lesson from health care’s past: The embrace of digital in the past three decades has merely been an attempt to replicate the analogue workflow and analogue culture in a digital form – instead, we need to reinvent so digital performs better than analogue ever did. For A.I., I suggest we go beyond comparison to humans. A.I. isn’t a replacement of human capabilities. It’s a reinvention of what it means to leverage the power of machines at scale, and a way to augment the most humanistic aspects of care. It seems to me that the team at UC Berkeley behind the ‘Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks’ understood that how we talk about things, and how we name things, influences our attitudes and opinions.

Let’s pull the collective #hcldr community together to tackle this subject!

Please join us Tuesday, November 28, 2017, at 8:30 pm ET (for your local time click here) as we discuss the following topics:

  • T1 Does the term “artificial intelligence” (emphasis on artificial) impact its acceptance by patients and use by providers? How?
  • T2 Would more descriptive labels for A.I. accelerate understanding, acceptance and adoption? ie: ‘image interpretation engine’ or ‘cloud-compared diagnosis’
  • T3 How can we reconcile the need to humanize health care with the desire to maximize technologies including A.I.?
  • T4 Where can A.I. be used to allow doctors to focus more on patients? Are you seeing this yet at your health system or provider’s office? 

About the Author

Rasu Shrestha, MD, MBA, is chief innovation officer at UPMC, executive vice president at UPMC Enterprises, and an executive steering committee member at the Center for Connected Medicine (CCM). The CCM is the world’s first collaborative health care executive briefing center, supporting stakeholders in defining the transformation of health care. It serves as a resource for innovative patient-centered and population health models, showcasing strategically integrated health information technology. By facilitating connections among those who deliver, receive, and support health care, the CCM helps promote cultural change, coordinated care delivery, and greater patient engagement. Located in Pittsburgh, Pa., the CCM is operated by five partners — GE Healthcare, IBM, Lenovo Health, Nokia and UPMC — representing various facets of the health information community.


  1. Allen, John R., and Amir Husain. “The Next Space Race Is Artificial Intelligence.” Foreign Policy, Nov. 3, 2017, foreignpolicy.com/2017/11/03/the-next-space-race-is-artificial-intelligence-and-america-is-losing-to-china/.


  1. Blanchard, Dave. “Musk’s Warning Sparks Call For Regulating Artificial Intelligence.” NPR, July 19, 2017, npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2017/07/19/537961841/musks-warning-sparks-call-for-regulating-artificial-intelligence.


  1. D’Addario, Daniel. “A.I. Inspires Hollywood and Shapes Our Vision of the Future.” TIME, Oct. 10, 2017, time.com/4967348/hollywood-artificial-intelligence-movies-tv/.


  1. Dhande, Meenal. “What is the difference between AI, machine learning, and deep learning.” Geospatial World, Aug. 28, 2017, www.geospatialworld.net/blogs/difference-between-ai%ef%bb%bf-machine-learning-and-deep-learning/.


  1. Dowd, Maureen. “Elon Musk’s Billion-Dollar Crusade to Stop the A.I. Apocalypse.” Vanity Fair, May 25, 2017, vanityfair.com/news/2017/03/elon-musk-billion-dollar-crusade-to-stop-ai-space-x.


  1. “From Virtual Nurses To Drug Discovery: 106 Artificial Intelligence Startups In Healthcare.” CB Insights Research, July 14, 2017, cbinsights.com/research/artificial-intelligence-startups-healthcare/.


  1. “Growing the artificial intelligence industry in the UK”, Wendy Hall and Jérôme Pesenti, Oct. 15, 2017, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/652097/Growing_the_artificial_intelligence_industry_in_the_UK.pdf.


  1. Kania, Elsa. “Emerging technology could make China the world’s next innovation superpower.” The Hill, Nov. 6, 2017, thehill.com/opinion/technology/358802-emerging-technology-could-make-china-the-worlds-next-innovation-superpower.


  1. Marr, Bernard. “The Amazing Ways How Artificial Intelligence And Machine Learning Is Used In Healthcare.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 10 Oct. 2017, forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/10/09/the-amazing-ways-how-artificial-intelligence-and-machine-learning-is-used-in-healthcare/#f8428d61c802.


  1. Parloff, Roger. “The Deep-Learning Revolution.” TIME, 2017, pp. 10-17.


  1. Simon, Matt. “The Education of Brett the Robot.” Wired, Conde Nast, 21 Sept. 2017, wired.com/story/the-education-of-brett-the-robot/.


  1. “State of Artificial Intelligence for Enterprises”, Teradata, Oct. 11, 2017, http://assets.teradata.com/resourceCenter/downloads/AnalystReports/Teradata_Report_AI.pdf.


  1. “Up And Up: Healthcare AI Startups See Record Deals.” CB Insights Research, Aug. 24, 2017, cbinsights.com/research/artificial-intelligence-healthcare-deals-funding-investors/ .


  1. Vella, Matt. “How A.I. Is Transforming Our World.” TIME, Nov. 2017, pp. 5–7.


  1. “13 healthcare AI startups with $25M+ funding”, Beckers Hospital Review, https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/healthcare-information-technology/13-healthcare-ai-startups-with-25m-funding.html

Image Source

Photo of Brett the Robot –  The Education of Brett the Robot via Wired Magazine.

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