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Big data and smart data: the big bang of medicine

Big data and smart data: the big bang of medicine

By Dr Laurent Alexandre (*)

The founder of Google recently announced that he is building machines that will overtake humans in few years. We are therefore no longer very far from the moment when artificial intelligence will overtake human intelligence; by 2050 or even before. This will revolutionize many areas, starting with medicine. A revolution underway that will revolutionize medicine.

Only computers are able to analyze in an acceptable time the three billion basic DNA of a patient’s chromosomes; it would take decades for a man.

Thus, the “Watsonization” of health will be amazing, Watson being the first expert system in health, an artificial intelligence computer program developed by IBM. Doctors will quickly be overwhelmed by these expert systems. Because, with the development of molecular biology, integrated sensors, sensors on our mobile phones and with the development of genomics, our medical file will be continuously enriched with millions of information, that no human mind can process on the desired time; only expert systems, algorithms can. The decision will therefore pass from the doctor to the algorithms. Today, Watson does better than an oncologist at analyzing the billions of pieces of information in lung cancer cells; especially that Watson does it in seconds

In addition, all NBIC technologies will reduce death, by transforming currently incurable cancers into well-controlled chronic diseases; by making possible to improve the fight against aging. This is why Google is entering this theme of health.

The role of public authorities
For the public authorities to supervise and regulate this universe, it would have to be aware of these issues. However, it is completely off track, particularly here, in France, where the public authorities take little interest in technical and technological issues and in the industries of the future. In particular, there is very little awareness of the public authorities on the issue of artificial intelligence. Why? Political leadership is very short-term in France and politicians are technophobic. It is meaningful to remind that the President of the Republic does not even have a computer on his desk.

Currently, in the United States, supervision is quite weak and the American public authorities tend to encourage manufacturers to take leadership positions in all these industries. The United States hardly regulates Google and lets it colonize the whole world, just like Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter. It is clear that the main players in Silicon Valley are making decisions with strong support of the public authorities who have understood these industrial and technological issues.

The potential risks of these new technologies
There are 1,000 dangers and all this needs to be supervised, but the public authorities are far from realizing it, they do not think about it. When we see that one of the leaders of Google announces that we will be able to insert electronic devices in the human brain as early as 2035, it made us sit back and reflect on that. Because abuses and risks are not to be taken lightly. There can also be genomic accidents, accidents with nanotechnologies; there are risks of manipulation of people with intracerebral implants, risks of artificial intelligence becoming hostile and wanting to abolish humans! We will have to anticipate quickly. According to Moore’s Law, the power of computers is multiplied by 1,000 every decade. We must think about tomorrow and not today. The benefits are major and greater than the potential harms. But the side effects should not be underestimated.

The question of the dehumanization of medicine
Does it dehumanize aviation, to have computers operating an aircraft instead of pilots?
Does it dehumanize reading, to buy a book on Amazon rather than at the bookseller?
Does it dehumanize music, to buy it from Apple iTunes instead of from a record store?
Around 2025-2030, the prescription will no longer be made by a doctor, he will simply read the prescription. The doctor of 2030 will have the status of the nurse of 2021! And we won’t ask them for their opinion! It would be a mistake to believe otherwise; Apple or Amazon did not seek the advice of record stores and bookstores before launching their solutions.

Anyway, as we said before, doctors will have no choice because they will not be able to analyze the data from genomics, too numerous and too complex for the human brain. Even if the research takes place in the United States, the algorithms will arrive in France while remaining the property of companies in Silicon Valley. It will happen quickly and the shock for the doctors will be extremely violent.

The role of physician training
Before the 60-year-old academics change the training of young doctors and make it compatible with the future, some time will pass. The university system is completely locked down by old people who are not up to date with these technologies. Programs should be built more by students rather than teachers. We are in an era when it is the young people who teach the elders. And when the program is done by the elders, it is usually 30 years behind in terms of technology. The way we learn medicine today is indecent, needy. We do not train doctors in big data, data management, and algorithms. Doctors are trained in the medicine of 1980 and not in the medicine of 2030. However, it is in 2030 that they will be practicing!

France’s place in this global movement
The United States has strong leadership. Five years ago, when Google talked about making driverless cars, Renault and Peugeot laughed! Except today the Google Car exists. The United States has a significant lead over Europe in nanotechnology, biotechnology, computer science and cognitive science (NBIC). In nanotechnologies, genetics, sequencing, gene therapy-genome modification, microprocessors, smartphones, software, search engines (Google), e-commerce (Amazon, Apple), brain sciences and robotics, they are the global leaders. They are leaders in all of the major industrial branches of the 21st century.

China has a cheeky growth, and South Korea, with Samsung, is making progress in all these technologies. Asia is more dynamic in this sector than Europe. The United States retains leadership, but Chinese science is progressing very quickly in nanotechnologies and represents a significant part of world publications.

(*): Laurent Alexandre is a surgeon-urologist, neurobiologist by training and a graduate of ENA and HEC. Dr Laurent Alexandre is interested in the upheavals that science and biotechnology will engender on humanity. This article was communicated to us by the association of telecoms engineers at ENST in Paris.

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