Impact of artificial intelligence

The impact of artificial intelligence and big data - The future of health


11 October 2018

Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and big data will transform diagnoses, referral, treatment and patient interaction.

This year, researchers perfected an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can take a sketch and turn it into a painting with the brushwork of Van Gogh.1 The system, dubbed Vincent, has learned to paint by studying 8,000 paintings. There was no human input.

What’s changed?

In short, the amount of data we can collect, and the speed in which the latest neural networks can process it.

Over the next ten years, the volume of data held, the speed with which our computers can analyse it, and the depth of insight we can draw from their analysis will all increase rapidly. This will change everything about the way we all work.

Within ten years it’s entirely possible that when customers contact their healthcare provider they will interact not with a contact centre, a website, or even a mobile app, but with an ‘intelligent agent’, an Alexa, Siri or Cortana-style voice-enabled chatbot they can talk to wherever they are, about whatever they want.

With the ease that current iterations of this technology allow you to play music in your living room, you’ll be able to ask your intelligent agent health questions, and access the services you need. Smart devices will collect data too: how you sleep, what you eat, and how hard you’re working. They’ll know how long you spent in meetings, how much of that time you spent checking your emails, and what that did to your blood pressure.

“By 2020, the average home is predicted to have more than 500 connected devices ranging from washing machines to light bulbs.”

The Future of Connected Home Health, Plextek

Big data, AI and health

Imagine a system that will pick up subtle changes in your habits, your lifestyle and your physiology, changes that would be imperceptible to the human eye. It will connect what it learns with billions of other data points in the cloud. And it will use that vast accumulated bank of knowledge to keep you healthy. It will act both as a predictor of health problems and an early warning system for you – detecting the beginnings of lung disease from a drag in your foot, for instance.

Doctors, researchers and patients will share data freely between each other. Individuals will know more about their own health than ever before – and they’ll use that information to take better care of themselves.

When you have a health problem, it’s your smart device you’ll tell first.

The smart device of the future will diagnose your problem, decide if you need to see a specialist, check if you’re covered, book your consultation and pay your bill, without a human being ever needing to be involved. The role your insurer or your employer plays will be invisible to you. They’ll take care of things behind the scenes, but you’ll interact with an algorithm. It will focus on you, learn from you, and give you what you need.

If you go for a scan, an algorithm will read the image, connecting it with every other scan it’s seen, and plotting what it finds more accurately than a human ever could. It will be able to build 3D models that can be handed straight to your surgeon, improving the outcome of your surgery.

After your procedure, if you can be cared for at home, you will be. Instead of you needing to be monitored in a hospital, remote sensors will transmit data back to health professionals. They will be managing virtual wards in locations across the country – or even the world.

If you have to manage a long-term condition, the system will support you. It will help you manage your diabetes, by using contact lenses to measure the glucose in your tears. It will help you keep your stress levels down, by measuring the variability of your heart rate. That will mean conditions that might limit your life today can now be controlled – meaning you can contribute more at home and at work.

“By 2025, over 50 per cent of the workforce are expected to be Generation Y members who have grown up connected, collaborative and mobile.”

Millennials at Work, PWC

When will it happen?

Every piece of technology we’ve described above exists today. The Local Government Association are currently funding a pilot to offer an Alexa-based healthcare service to fifty vulnerable people in Hampshire. The service will remind people to take their medication, to hydrate and to lock the front door. It will also link up with the time recording system of domiciliary care providers, so Alexa can quickly and accurately answer the question, ‘where’s my carer?’2

So, it’s no longer a question of whether this future could happen, just when.

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