Chinese robot passes national medical exams

Doctor What: Machines are increasingly being used in medicine, both in China and elsewhere.

Can artificial intelligence improve health care? A robot has stunned China by passing the country’s medical exam. This proves that machines are becoming better at being doctors.

What’s happening

A Chinese robot has passed the exam which all doctors in the country must take. Not only that, Xiaoyi got a very high mark, after using its artificial intelligence (AI) to read millions of medical documents and draw conclusions from them. It is the first non-human to pass the test.

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Alongside the USA, China is a world leader in AI. It is interested in how machines can make health care more efficient, especially as it has a shortage of doctors.

Robots like Xiaoyi are able to interpret medical data much faster than humans can. They are increasingly being used to help doctors make diagnoses.

This is not only happening in China. In Japan, an AI system analysed a woman’s genes and found that she had a rare leukaemia – something the doctors had missed. The NHS is trying out a system in which a chatbot assesses patients’ symptoms over the phone. Some people have personal AI assistants that monitor their health at home.

As these robots become more effective, some ask whether they could one day replace human doctors entirely.

Some say…

Three cheers for Xiaoyi! People are living longer than ever, which is putting a huge strain on health care services. The more work intelligent machines can do, the more patients can be seen. On top of that, they can spot problems that humans miss and are less likely to make mistakes. Let’s welcome robot doctors with open arms.

Others think…

Robots have problems of their own. They have no emotions, which means that they cannot break bad news in a sympathetic way – an important part of being a doctor. Even worse, they have no morals, so they cannot make difficult decisions such as who to blame when something goes wrong. We must not let them take over.

You Decide

  1. Would you trust a robot doctor?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are having a conversation with someone through text. You have not been told whether you are talking to a human or a very intelligent chatbot.
  2. Which questions would you ask it to find out? Write down five.

Some People Say...

“A year spent in AI is enough to make one believe in God.”

Alan Perlis

What do you think?

Word Watch

Xiaoyi
The name means “little doctor”.
Artificial intelligence
The ability of machines to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as speaking, reading or making complex decisions.
Leukaemia
A type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and blood cells.
Chatbot
A computer program capable of conversation with humans, generally over the internet, through text.
Assesses
When you assess something, you analyse it to work out what or how important it is, or to decide on its quality.

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