Paging Dr. Siri

In 2004 I wrote In Praise of Impersonal Medicine arguing:

I have nothing against my physician but I would prefer to be diagnosed by a computer.  A typical physician spends most of the day playing twenty questions. Where does it hurt?  Do you have a cough?  How high is the patient’s blood pressure?  But an expert system can play twenty questions better than most people.  An expert system can use the best knowledge in the field, it can stay current with the journals, and it never forgets.

and in 2006 I noted:

The practice of modern medicine is surprisingly primitive…My credit card company knows far more about my shopping history than my physician knows about my medical history.

I now believe that we are on the cusp of major changes to medicine. The thousand dollar genome sequence is less than a year away, Ford has just developed a car seat that can monitor your health, many people are already using wrist monitors to measure heart and sleep patterns. All of this data will soon be combined with massive databases to offer predictive and prescriptive health diagnosis.

In Do We Need Doctors or Algorithms the venture capitalist Vinod Khosla expands:

IBM’s Watson computer… is now being applied to medical diagnosis after handling imprecise and vague tasks like winning at Jeopardy, which experts a few years ago would have said could not be done. “Computers cannot match the judgment of humans on these kinds of tasks!” And with enough data, medical diagnosis or 90% of it is an easier task than Jeopardy.

Already Kaiser Permanent already has 10 million real-time medical records with details of 30,000,000 e-visits last year with caregivers and computer modeling of key diseases per individual that data scientists would love to get their hand on. Already, according to IDC 14% of the US population is using their phones for medical help and 200 million health and fitness related mobile applications have been downloaded according to pyramid research. Fun stuff, though early. They are probably two generations away from systems that are actually useful.

…But I doubt very much if within 10-15 years (given continued investment and innovation and keeping the AMA from quashing such efforts politically) I won’t be able to ask Siri’s great great grandchild (Version 9.0?) for an opinion far more accurate than the one I get today from the average physician. Instead of asking Siri 9.0, “I feel like sushi” or “where can I dispose a body” (try it…it’s fairly accurate!) and with your iPhone X or Android Y with all the power of IBM’s current Watson computer in the mobile phone and an even more powerful “Nvidia times 10-100” server which will cost far less than med school with terabytes or petabytes of data on hundreds of millions (billions?) of patients, including their complete genomics and proteomics (each sample costing about the same as a typical blood test).


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