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6 ways AI is influencing your health (without you even knowing it)

Michael McQueen

4 minute read
Man in orange t-shirt wearing headphones around his neck

For many of us, when we talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI), we think of Skynet and the malevolent robots that rose up to destroy humankind in the Terminator film series.

In reality, however, artificial intelligence is already here and it’s not out to kill us — well, not yet, anyway.

Our computers are smarter than most of us realise and they’re getting smarter all the time. According to Deloitte, 68% of smartphone users are interacting with devices that have machine learning and AI capabilities - and most of us don't even realise it. Predictive text, voice assistants like Siri and Alexa, and suggested travel routes in apps like Waze are all features that use AI.

While many of us have been using apps and devices for years to monitor how many steps we take, how many calories we burn and how well we sleep, the use of AI in healthcare is only just getting started. According to CB Insights, there are currently over 100 AI startups focused on healthcare – compared with less than two dozen only a few years ago.

Doctor looking at smart phone and medicine

As an example of what’s happening in this arena, consider the patent application lodged in July 2018 by Google for AI-powered headphones that will monitor our health data and body temperature as we listen to music on our smartphones or tablet devices.

While these health monitoring earphones may be a few years away from becoming a reality, here are six ways AI is already influencing and impacting your day-to-day health - whether you’re aware of it or not:

1. Smart pills

Proteus Biomedical and Novartis have recently developed smart pills that monitor how the body is interacting with medications and transmit that data to your phone in real time.

Credit: CBC News

2. AI diagnoses

Companies such as Sensely and Buoy Healthcare have begun using AI to make diagnoses to patients based on the symptoms they describe or submit via photograph. For example, if you have a strange rash or a suspicious-looking mole, you can use your smartphone to upload a picture and the algorithm can guide you on whether you should seek medical attention.

Due to the self-learning nature of this technology, this AI keeps getting more accurate all the time.

3. Data and machine learning

A Toronto-based start-up named Cloud DX is leveraging the power of large datasets and machine learning to identify tuberculosis, pneumonia and bronchitis by teaching AI to detect the difference between the diseases based on how a cough sounds.

4. Nanobots

Doctors have recently begun treating certain cancers with nanobots that are temporarily inserted into the human body to release the blood clotting enzyme Thrombin directly into tumours, cutting off their blood supply causing them to begin shrinking in days. The possibilities of these microscopic robots known as ‘Smart Dust’ are almost unfathomable. In the coming years, Smart Dust will enable doctors to essentially get inside our bodies without traditional surgical procedures at all.

5. Smart lenses

Google has recently developed a contact lens that contains a tiny glucose detector and wireless chip. These lenses can continuously monitor glucose levels in real time, making the maintenance and treatment of diabetes significantly less invasive and painful than current alternatives.

Credit: Science Magazine

6. AI-powered pathology

New AI-powered diagnostic tools can scan pap smear and skin cancer samples rapidly and detect more than a hundred visual signs of cell abnormality. The computer then ranks the tests based on the likelihood of disease and, if risk factors are deemed high, passes the tests on to human pathologists to investigate further. This technology is achieving significantly more accurate results than human pathologists alone and roughly doubles the speed of processing tests.

Computers are getting smarter with every passing day – some even predict that they’ll overtake human intellectual capacity by as early as 2029. But AI is more than a technology that will define our future – it is impacting our present in some extraordinary ways too.

Keen to find out more about the future of healthcare and medicine? Check out our Future Happenings page where we talk AI, robots and telemedicine.

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