The Alarming Blind Spots in Health Care AI

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MC: Ah, well, I’m glad that there’s nothing currently super wrong with you because we’re going to talk about AI’s role in healthcare on today’s show.

LG: Sounds good.

[Gadget Lab intro theme music plays]

MC: Hi everyone, welcome to Gadget Lab. I am Michael Calore a senior editor at WIRED.

LG: And I’m Lauren Goode, I’m a senior writer at WIRED for as long as I can do my job before an AI takes it over, I guess.

MC: And we’re also joined by WIRED senior writer, Tom Simonite. Tom, welcome back to the show.

Tom Simonite: Hi Mike, thank you for having me back.

MC: Now, Tom, you write about AI for WIRED, which is why we asked you on, but we actually asked you on because of your smooth melodic British accent.

TS: Mike that’s kind, I’m also a big fan of your accent.

LG: What about mine?

TS: Your accent is also great, Lauren. Other accents are also available from all good suppliers.

LG: Tom, you’re killing me. I’m already jealous that you are in the San Francisco office right now, in our podcasting studio, I can see you over Zoom, we hope to all be back there soon. But I’m already having the FOMO and now you’re saying you like Mike’s accent and I don’t quite believe, not quite convinced you feel the same about mine, but that’s okay, perhaps we should move on.

MC: Yeah. We’re all still recording remote but there you are in our studio, how is it? How does it smell? Does it smell good?

TS: It smells super clean. When I cracked open the door, I was thinking, this is like a time capsule to probably roughly 18 months ago, I was bracing myself, who knows what would be in here.

LG: You’re bracing yourself for the smell of snack fight.

TS: And I opened the door and it was super fresh because we have a powerful air purify in here keeping the virus particles down and I think everything else too.

LG: What brand of air purifier is that?

TS: It is a Coway Airmega.

LG: Oh, a Coway, we’re actually fans of that at WIRED I think, right?

MC: Yeah we are.

TS: It’s good. When you turn it on, it makes a cheerful happy tune that makes you feel safe.

MC: This is not sponcon about air purifiers, this is in fact a show where we’re going to be talking about AI’s use in healthcare. Now, Tom, you are one of the writers that we have on staff at WIRED, who covers all this stuff and you’ve written a story about AI’s use in hospitals this week, and we’re going to talk about that story plus another one later in the show. So to set up the first one, machine intelligence can no doubt be a useful tool for both doctors and patients but we know that it’s not perfect. And the use of algorithm tools in healthcare settings can create new complications.

Like sometimes doctors don’t know what to do with the information that the computer spits out or sometimes a poorly written AI program can up worsening the racial disparities that already exist in our healthcare system. But let’s start with your most recent story, which is about sepsis. Some people might not know this, but sepsis, which results from infections, is the number one killer of patients in US hospitals. So when a company developed a software that uses an algorithm to alert doctors to the first signs of sepsis in their patients, it seemed like a good thing, but there are some flaws in that algorithm. Now, Tom, we’re hoping you can tell us what went wrong here.

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