After the computer known as Watson easily dispatched of the best two human Jeopardy contestants in history, IBM announced that one of the first applications of their artificial intelligence technology would be in the medical field. We should soon expect virtual physician assistants in the exam room. At least one of my friends even speculated that the days of human doctors are numbered.
Is it possible that machines will replace humans in the doctor-patient relationship? I doubt it. According to a study done by the Mayo Clinic in 2006, the most important characteristics patients feel a good doctor must possess are entirely human. According to the study, the ideal physician is confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful, and thorough. Watson may have proved his cognitive superiority, but can a computer ever be taught these human attributes needed to negotiate through patient fear, anxiety, and confusion? Could such a computer ever come across as sincere?
Here’s an artist’s conception (read: farce) of how such an application in the examining room might play out. I’m afraid some major calibrations might be needed to substitute artificial intelligence for an “ideal” physician. What do you think?
To watch this Oscar-nominated cartoon on a full screen, follow this link: