Support or Supplant? MD, PhD students give talk on future role of AI in medicine

M.D., Ph.D. students John Bernabei and Andy Revell presented grand rounds for the Penn MSTP on Monday. Their lecture focused on the rapid emergence of AI in medicine and how tools currently being used by epilepsy researchers in the CNT and Davis Lab could one day change the fundamentals of clinical practice.

When applied effectively AI tools “can perform staggering computational tasks”, said Bernabei and Revell. In a clinical case study they presented, AI tools were used to sort through 5 million possible genetic variations in an infant presenting with seizures to identify the gene of interest– a time-sensitive feat which would have been impossible to perform manually. Cases such as this highlight an important role for these tools in medicine, they said.

However, Bernabei and Revell also noted that there are key limitations of AI. Machine learning algorithms, for instance, are largely a product of the datasets used to train them. The patterns in data AI is taught to recognize can sometimes be the algorithm’s own undoing. “When AI hears hoofbeats, it’s really only going to ever think of horses, and really never zebras. Humans are better at picking up zebras”, they explained.

Bernabei and Revell concluded that in a future almost certainly involving AI at the bedside, physicians should aim to integrate AI into their practice in a way that effectively leverages both computational tools and human medical expertise.

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