October 01, 2020

Many uses for artificial intelligence in medicine

Artificial intelligence (AI) can be defined as a computer system that performs tasks that humans require intelligence to do. In the medical world, one common use of AI is known as supervised machine learning. For example, large amounts of patient data, such as computerized tomography (CT) scans, are entered into a computer to train it. These scans have previously been evaluated and are labeled, so the AI can identify patterns and "learn" how to identify disease. The AI can later be tested by giving it different scans and seeing if it arrives at the correct diagnosis, as made by humans.

Recent examples of AI in action include roles in:

  • Breast cancer screening — Regular mammograms are an important tool to screen for breast cancer, but both false-positives and false-negatives can prevent optimal care. As detailed in the January 2020 issue of Nature, researchers tested an AI system that was created to recognize breast cancer on mammograms. They tested the AI using thousands of mammograms that later were confirmed as being positive or negative with follow-up exams. The AI system performed as well as or better than the original radiologists — meaning there were fewer false-negatives and false-positives.
  • Pandemic response — COVID-19 can be diagnosed with a polymerase chain reaction test, but there have been test shortages and results can take a couple of days. CT scans of the chest may provide more diagnostic information in select circumstances, but signs of COVID-19 don't always show up...