Expert comment: Artificial intelligence a vital tool in fight against cancer

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Professor Ian McLoughlin from the School of Computing Data Science Research Group says Theresa May is right to identify AI as having a key role in the battle against cancer.

‘AI has the potential to improve almost every aspect of the cancer discovery process: to make detection earlier, more decisive, treatments more effective, with fewer side-effect and lower rates of remission.

‘Big data – the key underpinning technology for AI – means using thousands or millions of data points to enable artificial learning systems to explore and deduce relationships between cause and effect. By studying large amounts of data from the population as a whole, or from target groups, or even large amounts of data from a single person over time, these systems can build an understanding of individuals and groups.

‘In human terms, the AI systems learn how to:

Understand more about people like you – your health-related behaviours and their risks.
Know you better as an individual – what is normal for you, and how have you changed.
Model and track the progression of diseases and conditions in the population.
Treat diseases earlier with higher success rates, fewer side-effects and better outcomes.
And yes; to do all of the above at lower cost.

‘An AI system can get to know you from your data, and most importantly will get to know how you are changing. Disease markers sometimes take months or years to become visible to the naked eye, but AI-based monitoring can identify fine-grained and correlated changed in an individuals’ daily life patterns. These patterns again reveal the effectiveness of treatments, updated if necessary to the millisecond (rather than after every GP visit).

‘However, these tools are no substitute for the skill, experience and dedication of a good GP – at least not within the near future – but could become crucial in advising your local family doctor. After all, AI can know you better, observe you more closely, track you more frequently, direct your treatment more effectively, and monitor your outcome more objectively than any human.

‘Yet when we are faced with the long wait, when we receive that dreaded news, and when living after cancer, we need the human face of our family doctors more than ever.’

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