Last week at a medical conference in London, Babylon Health claimed that their chatbot can achieve medical exam scores on par with human doctors. It seems a stunning claim. However maybe the more extraordinary claim was made later in the day, when a spokesman for the Royal College of General Practitioners said, “No app or algorithm will be able to do what a GP [doctor] does.”
Maybe the doctor who gave that quote might want to talk to a Mr Lee Sedol. Like a doctor, Mr Sedol is well respected for his cognitive abilities. However his intellectual prowess doesn’t focus on medical diagnosis, rather he plays the incredibly complex game of intuition and strategy called Go. In fact he doesn’t just play Go, he has been consistently ranked as one of the world’s greatest players of the Japanese strategy game. (If you’ve never heard of Go, think of Chess on steroids.)
In 2016 Mr Sedol was challenged to a game of Go by the people at DeepMind, an artificial intelligence (AI) company based in London. They had created a system called AlphaGo which rather than being programmed with responses to specific moves, uses an approach called machine learning to teach itself. It looks at vast amounts of data from previous games, to work out the best plays to make.
Mr Sedol was confident and predicted he would have a “near landslide” victory. A few months later, having been beaten comprehensively 4-1 by the machine he had changed his view. “I’m quite speechless…I am in shock…I kind of felt powerless.” I think Mr Sedol sums up what many of us feel about the arrival of AI. On the one hand it is deeply fascinating and yet on the other utterly terrifying. It poses all sorts of as yet unresolved questions about humanity’s place in the workforce.
But I think more and more of us are coming to the conclusion that AI will significantly disrupt our organizations over the coming years. I was challenged only the other day by a very bright learning and development executive. We had been discussing a management training package for his graduates when he said what he really wanted was a chatbot which could help his graduates diagnose management problems and save them the time and effort of going on a training course.
Will machines completely replace humans in some job roles? It seems unlikely. In fact Ali Parsa, Babylon Health’s Chief Executive says, “We are fully aware that artificial intelligence on its own cannot look after a patient, that is why we complement it with physicians,” However many of us seem unprepared for this next big disruptor looming over the horizon.