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Can Artificial Intelligence Make Doctors Better?

2018-12-10

Artificial intelligence (AI) technology may soon be a useful tool for doctors. It may help them better understand and treat diseases like breast cancer in ways that were never before possible.

Rishi Rawat teaches AI at the University of Southern California's (USC) Clinical Science Center in Los Angeles. He is part of a team of scientists who are researching how AI and machine learning can more easily recognize cancerous growths in the breast.

Rawat provides information about cancer cells to a computer. He says this data helps the machine learn.

"…You can put the data into them and they will learn the patterns and the pattern recognition that's important to making decisions."

David Agus is another USC researcher. He believes that “machines are not going to take the place of doctors.”

“Computers will not treat patients, but they will help make certain decisions and look for things that the human brain can't recognize these patterns by itself.”

Once a confirmed cancerous growth is removed, doctors still have to treat the patient to reduce the risk of cancer returning. The form of treatment depends on the kind of cancer. Currently, researchers take a thin piece of tissue, put it on a small piece of glass and add color to better see the cells.

That process could take days or even longer. Scientists say artificial intelligence can do something better than just count cells. Through machine learning, it can recognize complex patterns, or structures, and learn how the cells are organized.

The hope is that machines will soon be able to make a quick identification of cancer that is free of human mistakes.

"All of a sudden, we have the computing power to really do it in real time...We couldn't have done this, we didn't have the computing power to do this several years ago, but now it's all changed."

Agus adds that the process could be done “for almost no cost in the developing world." He says that having a large amount of information about patients is important for a machine to effectively do its job in medicine.

The University of Southern California researchers are now only studying breast cancer. But doctors predict artificial intelligence will one day make a difference in all forms of cancer.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Elizabeth Lee reported this story for VOA News. Jonathan Evans adapted her report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

pattern – n. the regular and repeated way in which something happens or is done