Rather than leading to the violent downfall of humankind, artificial intelligence is helping people around the world do their jobs, including doctors who diagnose sepsis in patients and scientists who track endangered animals in the wild, experts said Thursday (Oct. 13) at the White House Frontiers Conference in Pittsburgh.
Advancements in the field of artificial intelligence (AI) haven’t always been met with enthusiasm. Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking warned on several occasions that a fully developed AI could destroy the human race, and Hollywood sci-fi movies are rife with fierce robots battling humans for control. But at yesterday’s conference — attended by the country’s leading researchers, innovators, entrepreneurs and students — scientists explained how newly developed AI is accelerating research and improving lives.
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Many researchers want to know how many animals are out there and where they live, but “scientists do not have the capacity to do this, and there are not enough GPS collars or satellite tracks in the world,” Tanya Berger-Wolf, a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said at the conference, which was jointly hosted by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University and was also streamed live online.
Instead, Berger-Wolf and her colleagues developed Wildbook.org, a site that houses an AI system and algorithms. The system inspects photos uploaded online by experts and the public. It can recognize each animal’s unique markings, track its habitat range by using GPS coordinates provided by each photo, estimate the animal’s age and reveal whether it is male or female, Berger-Wolf said.
After a massive 2015 photo campaign, Wildbook determined that lions were killing too many babies of the endangered Grévy’s zebra in Kenya, prompting local officials to change the lion management program, she said.
“The ability to use images with photo identification is democratizing access to conservation in science,” Berger-Wolf said. “We now can use photographs to track and count animals.”
Sepsis is a complication that is treatable if caught early, but patients can experience organ failure, or even death, if it goes undetected for too long. Now, AI algorithms that scour data on electronic medical records can help doctors diagnose sepsis a full 24 hours earlier, on average, said Suchi Saria, an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.
Saria shared a story about a 52-year-old woman who came to the hospital because of a mildly infected foot sore. During her stay, the woman developed sepsis — a condition in which a chemical released by the blood to fight infection triggers inflammation. This inflammation can lead to changes in the body, which can cause organ failure or even death, she said.
The woman died, Saria said. But if the doctors had used the AI system, called Targeted Real-Time Early Warning System (TREWScore), they could have diagnosed her 12 hours earlier, and perhaps saved her life, Saria said.
TREWScore also can be used to monitor other conditions, including diabetes and high blood pressure, she noted. “[Diagnoses] may already be in your data,” Saria added.