For decades, science fiction has inspired rich forecasts of what the future will look like. Technologies like virtual and augmented reality, digital voice assistants and connected devices were first imagined by science fiction authors and futurists.
Many modern-day medical technologies also debuted in science fiction. Dr. McCoy’s tricorder in Star Trekserved as the inspiration for DxtER, a health analytics device which uses noninvasive sensors to track vitals, body chemistry and biological functions. Elder care robots like SoftBank’s Pepper and Luvozo’s SAM — and social robots like ElliQ and Jibo — draw inspiration from the portrayal of companion and care robots in science fiction films like Big Hero 6 and Robot and Frank.
Mechanized exoskeletons like Iron Man’s armor and Ellen Ripley’s power loader in Aliens helped create functional blueprints for exosuits being used in military and manufacturing applications, as well as for robotic devices like ReWalk which assists paralyzed individuals to sit, stand and walk. As for the U.S. military’s research and development agency, the neural-interface technology developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has helped amputees to experience touch with a prosthetic hand or control an advanced prosthetic arm with their mind. That should remind Return of the Jedi fans of Luke Skywalker’s bionic hand.
Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a key ingredient in making each of these real-life applications viable. Machines leveraging AI tools are making inroads into nearly every aspect of our lives. Fusing together the physical and digital realms, AI’s impact on society will be far reaching and profound. Impact evaluation and market sizing from McKinsey estimates that AI will generate value between $3.5 trillion to $5.8 trillion annually across nine business functions in 19 industries.
According to a recent Accenture survey of health care executives, a majority (85 percent) agree that every human will be directly impacted daily by an AI-based decision within the next three years. Accenture expects the AI health market to reach $6.6 billion by 2021, growing 40 percent annually, and potentially generating $150 billion in health care savings by 2026. Another way to gauge AI’s health care potential is by looking at how the investment world views it. Research from CB Insight, a financial analysis firm, shows that AI startups have raised $4.3 billion since 2013, topping all other industries.
From sifting through piles of data and generating insights, imaging and diagnostics, drug discovery to remote patient monitoring and purpose-built digital assistants, AI will also impact every aspect of health care. Frost and Sullivan, a consulting firm, predicts that by 2025, AI systems could be involved in nearly all aspects of global health care, from AI doctors responding to specific patient care needs to managing entire health care systems.
Machines built with AI will likely challenge the traditional role of the doctor or nurse. But they are unlikely to replace the need for high-trained clinical minds any time soon. AI systems currently work on a narrow range of tasks and will need human input, particularly in the form of professional expertise, for years to come. Its real benefit lies in freeing up health care workers from dull and repetitive tasks enabling them to spend more meaningful time with their patients. As these technologies take shape, they will lead the current health care model from primarily treating illness to keeping patients healthier longer. After all, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.