This Robot Just Passed the Medical Exam for the Very First Time

Tuesday, 21 November 2017 - 10:22AM
Weird Science
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 - 10:22AM
This Robot Just Passed the Medical Exam for the Very First Time
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Image credit: YouTube
As any doctor will tell you, diagnosing and treating diseases has been greatly aided by the advent of digital technology.

Where once upon a time doctors would have to reach for medical books in order to look up the specifics of certain illnesses, now everything is far more accessible thanks to online databases that can easily be searched for particular symptoms and ailments.

It's long been a dream of medical professionals to create a computer program that can handle the specifics of diagnoses; a machine that can be given a patient's specific details, and can come to its own conclusion as to what should be done to treat their illness.

This technology would be a literal lifesaver, especially in parts of the world where medical professionals are rare—even in developed countries. As medical advancements lead to a longer life, doctors are spread very thin as they try to cater to the needs of a growing population of sick people.

In an effort to produce a robot doctor that can take some of the workload off existing human professionals, programmers and doctors have been working together to create an AI that can pool all of human medical knowledge when treating patients. This technology is far from perfect—anyone who's tried out an online MD will note.

That said, this research and development is finally going somewhere, China has created a robot doctor that can officially pass the medical licensing exam, proving that this technology is just as sophisticated and safe as getting an actual human being to examine a patient.

The robot's name is Xiaoyi, and it's the first of its kind: an autonomous robot doctor that has learned all official medical books so thoroughly that it can successfully diagnose the majority of diseases.

Xiaoyi (which means "little doctor") is a creation of Tsinghua University, working with electronics company iFlyTek, and has done some serious learning over the past few years in order to be able to pass China's medical exam.

After reading two million medical records and 400,000 academic papers, the pint-sized robot managed to score an impressive 456, well above the required 300 pass mark.

What's really impressive is that the medical test doesn't just involve identifying diseases based on a list of symptoms—the questions are presented primarily as case studies, so that those sitting the test are forced to use their wider knowledge on real-world scenarios.

This means that Xiaoyi is more than just a glorified database: its success has come primarily from its reasoning and analysis skills, rather than the ability to regurgitate data.

This is one of many uses for machine learning that will be developed further in the next few years, as AI programs are taught to make logical conclusions based on trends that they identify without information that they're given access to.

That said, this technology isn't entirely flawless yet, and even Xiaoyi's creators insist that the little robot isn't ready to treat patients without human assistance just yet.

Even so, we're getting closer to a future point in time where AI machines can ease the burdens created by aging populations and restricted access to medical resources around the world. Don't be too surprised if, in a few years' time, an increasing number of hospital trips involve having conversations with friendly robots.
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