Digging into an AI Algorithm

One of the more successful uses of AI (artificial intelligence) has been in the medical field. It seems that there is a tremendous amount of data, high variability in some aspects of the target of the data (the patient), and a need to constantly review very tedious volumes of data. A place where AI might, and has, made a difference to help humans, not replace them.

There’s a neat article that dives into a bit of how a medical algorithm works for detecting sepsis. As you scroll, the article tries to explain in layman’s terms what the AI system(s) are doing. It goes through the necessity of regular data, which I think is a good design to push humans to gather data. It then talks about a variety of neural networks being used to analyze data, based on previous training from humans and past results.

It’s interesting to think of multiple nodes coming to their own conclusions are different times of the day and then later nodes looking at the results of previous nodes. That’s what a human would often do, looking back at recent history and giving that some weight. The system comes up with a number that a human can use to consider in their diagnosis.

It is interesting that the article talks about the need for humans to better communicate to use this system. I think that’s often a key with any computer assistance. The humans still need to use the computer as a tool and not as the final decision maker. However, at least in this instance, the tool seems to be helping reduce deaths in the hospital. I would hope that this is because the algorithm is detecting some patterns that are easy for a doctor to miss. It could be because the new system is focusing people’s attention better, and possibly this is a combination of both of these possibilities.

I do think that AI systems can be very helpful in assisting humans in many tasks, and medicine might be one of the places where AI will be most useful. The sheer volumes of data, the complexity of the cases, and the load placed on medical workers to monitor many people can overwhelm any one doctor or nurse. Having a system that might remind them of a small detail will hopefully save lives.

Steve Jones

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