‘Deep Medicine’


Eric Topol, Basic Books, 400 pages, $17.99. For all the technological wonders of modern medicine, health care is often stubbornly antiquated. This outdated era is slowly drawing to a close as, belatedly, the industry catches up with the artificial-intelligence (AI) revolution. And none too soon, argues Eric Topol, a cardiologist and enthusiast for digital medicine, in “Deep Medicine: How Artificial Intelligence Can Make Health Care Human Again.” Topol’s vision of medicine’s future is optimistic. He thinks AI will be particularly useful for repetitive, error-prone tasks, such as sifting images, scrutinizing heart scans for abnormalities or transcribing doctors’ words into patient records. It will be able to harness masses of data to work out optimal treatments, and improve work flows in hospitals. In short, AI is set to save time, lives and money. Much of this is hypothetical, but AI is already outperforming people in a variety of narrow jobs for which it has been trained. Eventually it may be able to diagnose and treat a wider range of diseases. Even then, Topol thinks, humans would oversee the algorithms, rather than being replaced by them. The fear the author harbors is that AI will be used to deepen the assembly-line culture of modern medicine. If it confers a “gift of time” on doctors, he argues that this bonus should be used to prolong consultations, rather than simply speeding through them more efficiently. That is a fine idea, but as health swallows an ever-bigger share of national wealth, greater efficiency is what will be pushed and AI is likely to empower managerial bean-counters.