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Ai will cure all disease
A fictional look at the future of medicine.
This month’s writing prompt was to use technology for good, not evil. I’ve seen so many fiction authors use personal data for nefarious purposes—government surveillance, brainwashing—but I’ve always seen a positive use case for it in medicine and I wanted to explore that using fiction.
Here is a fictional lecture delivered to incoming medical students in the year 2080.
It was only a decade ago that I received my medical degree from MIT and accepted a job at one of the top medical institutions in the world, OpenAI. I am honored to be back at my alma mater to speak to you, the incoming class of 2080, about the field of algorithmic medicine.
When my grandfather completed medical school sixty years ago, he operated with a scalpel and looked forward to a career in surgery and chemotherapy. His only options were to wait until someone had a disease, and then to cut it out or kill it with hazardous chemicals. We’ve come a long way since then. Today’s doctors operate with data and spend their careers in prevention.
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Algorithmic medicine began when OpenAI developed a tool that could connect with a user’s personal data from Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and wherever else it might reside. Pretty quickly, the company noticed some surprising patterns in user health. Some were to be expected: People who walked this amount of steps eventually got heart disease, people who purchased that food eventually got cancer. But others were more curious: People who used this app were at risk for dementia, people who regularly purchased that product were prone to autoimmune disease.
There were a few common denominators. Very quickly, several foods were correlated highly enough with heart disease and cancer that the government outlawed them altogether. Meat and sugar were so highly correlated to just about every form of mortality that we levied a large tax on them, relegating them to nothing more than an occasional delicacy. Entire cities were even retrofitted to be more walking-friendly, removing cars and elevators when step counts proved an important factor for avoiding heart disease.
Even seemingly mundane activities—playing certain video games, texting certain words, posting certain pictures to Instagram, or having a certain amount of money in your bank account—could be correlated with disease and were flagged as warning signs. That’s when OpenAI began hiring doctors like me to mine the data and see where those correlative properties existed. Sometimes we couldn’t understand why someone using Lyft was more likely to die of heart disease than someone using Uber, but those were the kinds of questions we were tasked to find out.
The personal data of any patient is a powerful source of healing. When we combine, not just a person’s age, weight, movement activity, sleep schedule, and shopping habits, but also their search history, social conversations, and app use, we get a complete 360-degree view of their health. Our algorithms can now predict with 99.99% accuracy whether a person will develop cancer in 20 years or Alzheimer's in 50, and we put that information to use to determine treatments—or rather preventions.
Now we program notifications that can disrupt behaviors correlated with negative health effects. Most of you, by now, have already connected your personal data with OpenAI’s health database, and you may have received notifications warning you about certain behaviors. At any given point you can look at your OpenAI Health app and see whether you are in the green or if you are starting to edge into the red with some of our habits, and you can correct course.
That data has already saved my own life. Shortly after medical school, the algorithm noticed that I was on track to develop ovarian cancer in 10 years. It picked up on ways my menstrual cycles changed over time, as well as words I texted friends about certain menstrual ailments, and even brain signals recorded from my airpods. A notification informed me that I should eat more of some foods and less of others and that I could prevent it altogether if I used certain apps less. After a year of those changes, my risk has been eliminated.
Some of you might prefer to enter the field of genetic medicine. Data works great for preventing diseases caused by lifestyle factors, but genetic medicine can prevent diseases caused by our DNA. Now, babies have their DNA sequenced at birth to detect any anomalies—if there are, doctors use CRISPR to delete those anomalies before they can manifest as disease. Most people choose to have their DNA sequenced every couple of years to check for anomalies along the way. Gene editing has now eradicated 99% of all diseases caused by genetic mutation!
As you know, there are still doctors who deal in accidental deaths. But even in the case of a car accident or recreational injury, bones can be mended with lasers, joints replenished with an injection, skin can be 3D printed, and organs can be regrown in place. Because of these medical advances, we have all but eradicated disease, and have even eliminated most injuries. Most of us can expect to live a healthy life well into our hundreds, and maybe beyond thanks to your valuable research in these fields.
My grandfather could never have imagined such a world when he went into medicine only two generations before me. And now you might go on to advance the field of medicine for the generations that come after! Welcome incoming class of 2080, and thank you for your valuable contributions to this incredible field!
Thank you for reading!