Man Versus Machine: The Future of Medicine

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While doctors focus their efforts on upholding their valuable clinical skills with continuing medical education and maintenance of certification programs,1 an unprecedented reformation of clinical medicine is eminent. This time it does not originate from within the medical field but is mainly driven by groundbreaking computer science projects.2
Disruptive technologies have imposed significant and radical changes in major industries such as agriculture and transportation, but medical doctors largely believe that medicine is resistant to major disruptions by technology. In neuroscientific terms, practicing medicine is by-and-large a cognitive process of probabilistic decision making under uncertainty.3 That uncertainty is the quality that endows a sense of art to the medical profession, often described as “medical intuition,” which is traditionally perceived as the human property of medicine, nonreplicable by computers. However, recent breakthroughs in neuroscience have achieved fairly accurate computational modeling of the human brain and allowed development of artificial intelligence (AI) systems able to imitate high cognitive processes such as unsupervised learning and curiosity.
As medical schools and residency programs train future doctors, in a parallel world computer science companies train their algorithms to generate optimal decisions based on objective and subjective data. As the amount of data generated in the clinical setting is exponentially increasing (electronic medical records, sensor data, genetics, research data, etc.) and the computational capacity of AI systems is growing (big data analysis systems), there will ultimately be a time when patients may prefer to consult an AI system rather than their doctor. Currently, the major limitation for wider utilization of such systems is the lack of legal framework, as doctors currently make all clinical decisions and therefore carry the legal responsibility of error, but health care policies will eventually be adjusted to encompass these developments.
In light of these advances, medical schools and residency programs should educate future doctors about the new medical environment that is being formulated. Universities should adapt their curricula accordingly and maybe reconsider traditional learning practices. Medical students and residents need to focus their attention and efforts on protecting their future patients and directing these unavoidable changes towards a more patient-centered, higher quality of care.
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