Doctors could be made redundant by AI, warns philosopher

It’s only a matter of time before doctors become replaced by artificial intelligence (AI) according to the historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari.

Harari spoke to the BBC’s Andrew Marr ahead of the publication of his forthcoming book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, which makes some bold and disturbing predictions about the role of artificial intelligence and how it will transform society.

Harari told Marr’s Start The Week programme that the biggest danger posed by the AI revolution is for those who are unable to grasp that we are being manipulated by algorithms.

Rather than the doomsday scenario predicted in numerous science fiction films such as 2001 (pictured), where AI systems become conscious and attack humans, Harari said a far more likely scenario is that many people will be left behind as a small elite benefits from AI at the expense of the rest of society.

Many jobs will be lost as AI outstrips the capabilities of human beings in certain roles that were previously of high value to society.

Harari pointed out that there would be little point in automating an historian as there is little financial incentive to do so – but doctors may well find themselves replaced by AI, which could be faster, cheaper and more efficient at diagnosing patients.

Yuval Noah Harari

“If everything the doctor does is just take in information about a patient and outcomes and diagnosis, this is exactly the thing that would be easiest to automate,” said Harari.

Understanding biology will be crucial for AI in other applications – for instance a self-driving car will have to have a deep understanding of human behaviour to be safe and effective.

It must be able to identify and react to different situations, including predicting the behaviour patterns of pedestrians.

“It needs to know something about the difference between the brains and the decision-making processes of kids, teenagers and elderly people. If the computer doesn’t understand this you wouldn’t like to have it driving a car on the road,” said Harari.



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