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How Does AI Change My Healthcare?

And what if my most important problem is NOT medical?

What is AI doing to me?

That is a good question to contemplate. I want to focus on healthcare: How is my healthcare impacted by AI? In ways that are both obvious and obtuse, AI is changing healthcare. As it changes healthcare, AI is changing us!

All of our lives are increasingly quantified. We have devices to count our steps, monitor our pulse and even track how much water we drink.

During my last visit, my dentist recommended that I get an Oral-B iO Electric Toothbrush. He was pretty enthusiastic about it and so I got one. This toothbrush not only has a Bluetooth connection to an app you can download onto your phone, but it uses artificial intelligence! Wow! An engineer’s dream. As far as I can tell it does a good job cleaning my teeth. I have not bothered to download the app because I cannot figure out what that will do for me. It does give me a smiley face when I brush for the recommended two minutes, but otherwise, I have no idea what the artificial intelligence is doing.

I have a Fitbit and Apple Watch, both of which keep track of my activity level, number of steps, pulse and even sleep quality. These devices keep nudging me to be less sedentary (they have their work cut out for them).

I recently helped HidrateSpark with their Bluetooth-equipped water bottle. The bottle connects to a free app to keep track of how much you are drinking. The company has also done the work so that you can bring the data about your hydration together with other data gathered by the Apple Health, Fitbit or a number of other apps. I can gather and analyze a lot of data in one place. The purpose is to help you stay hydrated through the day. My doctor has encouraged me several times to be watchful of how much I am drinking and to increase my water intake. I could use my client’s product but, so far, I just use a water glass and keep count of how many glasses I drink.

The HidrateSpark might well help me get better about following my doctor’s recommendations. I wonder where all these apps and AI are taking me? What is AI doing to my life?

I am certainly living a more quantified life. Not long ago I was at a meeting of the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) where someone asked everyone who was wearing a Fitbit, Apple Watch or other activity tracker to raise their hands. It was a sizable percentage of the audience. I think I have a lot of company living the quantified life with me.

Apple Health
Google Fit
Garmin Connect
Health Mate
LG Health
A sampling of the health and
wellness apps that are available

One purpose designed into these devices is to encourage habit change. They try to get us to live healthier lives by gamifying the needed change. They are trying to get us to move from normal but bad to a new life pattern that will lead to better health.

Quantification of our lives and gamification to motivate needed change can be done without AI (artificial intelligence). However, advanced computational techniques are becoming very good about pattern recognition. AI is already being used in the health and wellness space and is almost certain to find its role grow. As that happens our devices will become increasingly effective in encouraging lives that fit a profile, a profile which the programmers have identified as a healthy lifestyle.

Here is where we start asking questions:

What if my most important problem is NOT medical? The assumption of so many of these devices and apps is that my health and wellness is the most important aspect of my life. It doesn’t take much thought to realize that it often is not the most important. It may well be that something else is far more important than my health and wellness in a specific moment. I may need to work on a relationship problem with my wife or child. I may need to solve a business problem so that I do not lose my job. There are many things that might be more important than my wellness at specific times. None of these apps will suggest that you take a walk to buy your wife some flowers as an apology for how you behaved last night!

Even when the problem I need to focus on is medical, what if the most important factor cannot be quantified or doesn’t have a sensor adding that reading to my data set? AI can only work with the data it is given. If it does not get data about some factor then it cannot identify that as the critical factor in my illness. 

There are a lot of good devices out there. These devices, with their apps and supporting systems, can help us live healthier lives. They are limited to the data they get. In general, this means they can only deal with what is quantifiable. How do you quantify your need to apologize to your wife or spend more time with your kid? 

The danger is that as we move more deeply into the quantified life and let AI move us toward a healthier pattern, we may not spend enough time thinking about the parts of life that are not and perhaps cannot be quantified. How do you measure love, kindness, joy? Most of us would agree that these aspects of our life are far more important than the things that can be quantified, but because they cannot be quantified, we may find ourselves neglecting them as our devices and systems keep us focused on what can be quantified.

If we change our focus to the long-view we realize that the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle is a fool’s errand. In the end there is only one outcome for all of us: We die. A healthier lifestyle may help us live longer and it may help us stay more active, but in the end, we die. What is most important at that point? It is the kind of person we were while we lived. The quality of our life is measured by all those non‑quantifiable attributes like how well we loved our family, how kind we were, and whether we brought joy to those around us.

Stephen Berger

Stephen Berger is the founder of TEM Consulting, LP. He specializes in developing consensus multidisciplinary solutions for complex public policy issues. He has served on three federal advisory committees. Two of those committees addressed accessibility of telecommunications and information technology for people with disabilities. The third addressed requirements for voting equipment. He has chaired five standards committees that developed standards incorporated by the FCC and FDA into the US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). A current focus of this work involves improving healthcare through insightful introduction of technology with supporting system change.

How Does AI Change My Healthcare?