Last updated on 09/03/2021
A new IEEE study shows millennial parents would embrace self-driving school busses, 3D-printed organs and AI-powered assistants.
TechRepublic’s Karen Roby interviewed Dr. Karen Panetta, dean of engineering at Tufts University, about the tech organization IEEE and a recent study concerning AI and healthcare. The following is an edited transcript of their interview.
Dr. Karen Panetta: This is the third year that IEEE has been looking at artificial intelligence and the public perception of it with all the advances that are coming out. Most people think artificial intelligence is this magic black box. But those of us in the field understand that it really is very robust, proven technology. So, how do we look at how the public is going to accept it?
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This study looks at millennial parents who have a child under the age of 9, and whether or not they would be willing to entertain the thought of using some of these different types of AI leading-edge technologies in the future on their own children.
Some examples include 3D-printed organs, such as a heart for a necessary heart transplant, artificial intelligence, like a self-driving school bus. There are also things like whether or not when millennial parents themselves are old, whether they’d rather have an artificial intelligence assistant versus their own children taking care of them. And then there’s those in my own research area, such as looking at artificial intelligence to help diagnose cancer in children, as well as looking at what I would call home health monitoring aides, such as a recliner that can actually tell you some of your own biometrics and monitor you without you even knowing it.
Karen Roby: Expand on how AI is being used in reference to a cancer diagnosis.
Dr. Karen Panetta: I’ll say in different countries such as India, Brazil, and China, there’s huge support for these types of things, as well as in the UK and the US. But slightly lower in the US and the UK. And you have to ask the question. The question was not, “Would you allow artificial intelligence to make the diagnosis?” The question was, “Would you seek out a doctor that actually utilized AI in their diagnosis?” And the majority was very strong saying, “Yes we would.” And that makes good sense, because if you think about artificial intelligence, it’s based on huge amounts of data collected from actual cases and actual diagnosis from hundreds of doctors around the world.
It’s almost adding an additional level of confidence in that decision. I think anybody going to a doctor would like to know that you’ve got all this extra data behind you to make a great diagnosis. Because think about it, if you make the wrong diagnosis, you could treat a child that really doesn’t have cancer. That’s horrible. And then to make the wrong diagnosis, if they do and not get treatment, they’re both really detrimental to the children’s health. I think parents are really accepting of this technology to do that.
Karen Roby: You could see the way parents from one area of the world accept this and are looking toward this versus others, right? We’re a little bit less inclined here in the US. Is that right?
Dr. Karen Panetta: Well, the US is about 59%, but it’s like 94% in China. I think part of that reason is countries that have don’t have universal healthcare accessibility, like India or Brazil, where the US, we have very good health systems, they are looking at it as an alternative way to get fast, proper diagnosis early, versus having no information and not seeking treatment. So, this type of opportunity allows people from developing regions to get access to technology information to help make those diagnoses, when they really might not have that expertise in-house locally.
Karen Roby: Talk about some of the smart devices, like the recliner.
Dr. Karen Panetta: One of the biggest problems with all health monitoring systems is trying to get the patient on it. Now, I have a 90-year-old father, and all he has to do is get on that scale every morning. And I get a phone call every morning that he has not gotten on that scale from the remote monitoring. If they don’t physically have to even know that they’re being monitored, that’s the benefit of this type of technology.
So think about it. You know you’re going to sit down on that recliner every day, you know you’re going to lie in bed every day, and there’s even some that use these types of technologies on the toilet. They’re trying to find places where you’re going to go and people are going to go, and they can take these measurements without the patient actively saying, “Oh, I have to take my blood pressure,” or “I have to take my blood sugar,” or things like that.
The recliner type of thing is a great example of that type of technology, where somebody is going to sit in that every day. You don’t have to really be conscious of it and it’ll automatically record it for you.
There are some devices that can tell you your blood sugar without pricking the needle, taking blood. So, it’s not invasive. There’s some for even determining whether you’re at heart risk. One of the things that I envision is in the future looking at kidney function or even testing, I hate to say it, but what’s in the toilet, for different chemicals, maybe colon cancer screening, things like that. Looking for those types of things, which we, right now, have to proactively make an appointment, schedule that, and get some invasive type of uncomfortable test. Nobody wants to do that.
Karen Roby: It’s exciting to see people really embracing this technology!
Dr. Karen Panetta: It is Karen, because a lot of the things that we see, especially in sensors, is the cost is coming down. And because the cost is becoming so effective, it means that we can get to people that really need it, and we can get it to populations around the world, rather than just the super-wealthy, or the more-developed regions.
We can also use it as a tool even in schools. I think that’s another big one. There are countries that actually use some sort of robots right now to monitor the health of children when they go into schools, to make sure that they don’t have things like conjunctivitis or other contagious diseases, that they’re easy to detect, that parents might miss. I would actually be happy if my school system had something like that.