AI series (Part I): Artificial intelligence poised to revolutionize medicine

A broad range of applications for artificial intelligence (AI) are being developed for use in healthcare. AI and "big data" have the power to change radically the way patients are monitored, diseases diagnosed, and how drugs are designed and work.

Robot hand, symbolising artificial intelligence

AI makes it possible for machines to learn from experience, adjust to new inputs and perform human-like tasks. "Learning machines" are able to analyze large amounts of data to more effectively monitor, diagnose, and treat patients. Healthcare analysts say AI will have an unprecedented impact on nearly all aspects of the medical field.

Patient monitoring involves the gathering of large amounts of biodata, such as pulse rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar level, but also genetic information. AI is then used to analyze the data and search for patterns or markers that may indicate a predisposition towards and help avert disease.

AI is already aiding doctors in making diagnoses. At Heidelberg University Hospital, doctors have developed an AI system that is better than doctors at recognizing melanomas, to name one example. AI is also having an impact on radiology. The president of the German Radiological Society, Stephan Schönberg told the Welt newspaper, "In radiology, we're experiencing a mathematical revolution that is more rapid and profound that any we have seen before."

What is more, AI can also aid in drug development and therapy. In combination with "big data," AI has the potential to make the search for new drugs and treatment methods far more efficient.

Investors, insurers and healthcare policymakers are interested in AI as well. Market forecasts indicate that the market for AI systems in healthcare could reach six billion dollars by 2022. Others predict the technology will reduce healthcare costs. Price Waterhouse Coopers conducted a Europe-wide study on common illnesses and found that KI could bring billions in savings in the next decade.

The German government has agreed on and is implementing its Strategy for Artificial Intelligence to promote AI throughout the whole economy. The program aims to "bring research and development (R&D) as well as the application of AI in Germany and Europe to a globally leading level and keep it there." The government has budgeted EUR 500 million through 2023 to finance the policy.

This is the first article in a series on AI in medicine. Three additional articles will take a closer look at AI in Germany applied in monitoring, diagnosis, and therapy.

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