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The big picture: We're getting closer to AI doctors

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios 

It’s not unrealistic to think that 80% of what doctors do will be replaced by algorithms and artificial intelligence. The idea, evangelized by venture capitalist Vinod Khosla two years ago, is that machines can more accurately diagnosis us — and that will reduce deadly medical errors and free doctors up to do other things.

The bottom line: We’re getting closer to this reality. Algorithms, for example, can already diagnose diseases from imaging scans better than human radiologists. Computers possibly could take over the entire radiology specialty.

How it works: Khosla sees a day where people will have an “AI physician to answer their questions — that will be free. Just like Google Maps is free.” 

  • That could be an app on our phones. But this goes beyond Googling symptoms.
  • Imagine going to a doctor appointment or getting an MRI. 
  • Your human doctor takes photos, enters notes or waits for the scan results, and then plugs everything into an AI platform.
  • You then receive a diagnosis and plan based on the results and your medical history. 
  • Human doctors can’t remember every possible disease, treatment or medical article. But AI doctors can.
  • Human doctors likely would be more focused on emotional support and understanding what patients need or want.

One step further: “AI physicians with human assist like a nurse could do as much as any primary care physician within a decade,” Khosla said.

  • And he has a pretty good track record. In 2004, he predicted we would use our phones for a lot more than just talking.