In many of the “superhero” stories of our culture, from Batman and Robin to Sherlock and Watson, a superhero has an indispensable sidekick. Now, some real-life superheroes, notably doctors, are being paired up with a new sidekick, artificial intelligence (AI), that also may prove to be indispensable. This new dynamic duo might be the best one yet, and the pairing of doctors with AI might lead to victory over some of our toughest supervillains, like cancer.

Machine learning and data analytics teams are pairing up with hospitals around the globe to see how their systems might be able to detect disease earlier on to enable a better prognosis for the patient. Regina Barzilay, a machine-learning professor at MIT, in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital has been working on developing a software that uses machine learning and AI to better predict early detection signs of cancer in mammograms.1 Another startup in Boston, PathAI is led by Dr. Andrew Beck, his team has created a software that enables breast cancer detection to be picked up in combination with doctors, 99.5% of the time.2 Dr. Beck’s team and software placed first at the International Symposium of Biomedical Imaging (ISBI) in 2016, in a contest of accurately predicting breast cancer by reviewing imaging. The potential impact of these AI-informed procedures is far-reaching, as even the ability to more accurately detect cancers could potentially save countless lives.

The pairing of doctors and machine-learning opens the door to additional progress in the practice of medicine. For years, medical charts have been compiled in logs with paper and pen, with doctors measuring a patient’s vitals hour by hour by looking at monitors. The future entails an entirely new system with monitors providing patient logs to large databases with information on individual patients and across patients with similar symptoms. At The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in collaboration with IBM and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, they have taken their patient data and created a computer system that analyzes the data in order to find trends, allowing them to identify potentially life-threatening illnesses weeks before occurrence, and to intervene earlier with patients based on EKG or other monitoring patterns.3 Artificial intelligence can allow us to not only keep track of patient data across different timepoints, but also to “connect the dots” between different patients across time to more rapidly identify data fluctuations that could be life-altering.

The AI revolution is generating more and more funding from programs like IBM and Alphabet, in order to generate machine-learning softwares that outpace humans intellectual abilities. According to Orbis Research, the “Global Artificial Intelligence (AI) Market is expected to Grow at a CAGR of 50.51% During the Period 2017-2021.”4 The competition and demand for AI are also driving AI expert salaries into the celebrity level. With the capabilities of AI quickly developing and the capabilities of AI surfacing, we are just beginning to see the dividends for the potential of AI.

Here at VIC we often face the challenge of having too much data and not enough eyes; here AI implementation and machine-learning could be the key to making major research breakthroughs more quickly. We at VIC have implemented programs compatible with R, Python, and other computer programming languages to be able to identify more targetable markers for the treatment of disease quicker and easier. Having scientists rifling through hundreds of thousands of data points by themselves is not the best way forward to a cure. One of the new keys to discovery is creating a dynamic duo between scientists and AI. VIC scientists are currently employing new tools for data generation coupled with AI-based analysis to help understand how the immune mechanisms of specific vaccines work and to see how to make cancer immunotherapies more effective.

In the near future, the pairing of physician/scientist and machine-learning could be the key to addressing some of the world’s most deadly diseases. The realm of AI is vast, largely untapped, and full of exciting potential. Whether AI is as minute as receiving ads catered towards our activities or as far-fetched as preventing disease and saving countless lives, AI is the future. Our unmet needs may very well be addressed by AI, the key sidekick to some of our greatest superheroes in their triumph over evil. The future of this epic duo will create a more connected, more systemic, more organismic society that we will all cohabitate together, safely, intelligently and functionally.

-Skylar Korek

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