A robot developed by California’s Stanford University is giving dermatologists a run for their money when it comes to detecting skin cancer. After being trained to analyze skin lesions, the robot has achieved impressive results that are promising for public health. Its algorithms match and even surpass physician performance, and a cell phone app could be developed using those algorithms. People would simply need to take a picture of a mole, and the phone will tell them whether they need to see a doctor.* While this may seem unreal, we’re betting that plenty of people will download the app to try it. Move over, Pokemon hunting. Mole hunting is here!
Not a week goes by without announcements of discoveries like this. It is becoming increasingly clear that machines are better than humans at diagnostics, and while this idea pleases some, it worries others. Those who oppose this advance point out that millions of jobs will disappear. And these aren’t low-paying, assembly line jobs. When dermatologists who spend close to 10 years at university to become specialists are outperformed by a robot, as for any of us, it would be overwhelming. Other opponents argue that the algorithm, specifically, the robot, has no empathy (at least not yet). So it can’t be as helpful as a human being in its recommendations, because it won’t take into account the situation of the person seeking the professional help.
Those who are welcoming the robots with open arms are arguing common sense. If artificial intelligence means better decisions, why not use it? In past industrial and technology revolutions, the jobs that disappeared were replaced with others that focused on intelligence and cognitive abilities rather than brute human strength or manual labour. Why shouldn’t the digital revolution lead to an evolution in jobs?
In my job, I meet with human resources clients weekly to talk to them about advances in artificial intelligence for skills assessment. I hear one of two reactions. Some people are excited by the idea of harnessing these innovations. It will give them a clearer picture of the person they are preparing to hire, promote or develop and help them make better decisions. Others worry that there are no people involved in the skills assessment process and therefore question the reliability of results.
There is no wrong reaction. Both are valid. At D-Teck, we believe is that it is critical to be able to take advantage of all the benefits of artificial intelligence, while respecting the highest standards of professionalism and conscientiousness. Professionals can still contribute, but differently, for example, by refining the algorithm and qualifying technology innovations that will truly outperform humans.
*L’actualité, April 15, 2017, “Dr. Robot”