There are some new superstars in Silicon Valley these days, and Walter De Brouwer, Founder and CEO of is one of them. His company has created an app that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to collect your data such as “lab results, genetic tests, and exercise data, in one convenient location so you can have a more complete picture of your health than was possible before.” If you’ve already downloaded, you’ll see that you can join medical studies that are based on what the app deems are your biological and environmental conditions. The company states that “this new way of conducting medical research helps science create faster and more accurate insights into health conditions which in turn, provides a healthier future for generations to come.”

Ah, AI. So many people in Silicon Valley (and across the world, for that matter) are excited about the future of technology. They’re so enthusiastic, that the market is predicted to grow from 2.1 billion currently to 36.1 billion by 2025! It’s not just about apps, either. As we type this, programmers are using AI systems for just about every type of cancer that exists. From mammograms to skin cancer screenings – studies show that algorithms are better able to detect cancer than trained professionals. And, of course, there’s software like Google’s Inception, which is programmed with an open source algorithm that allows programmers to add information as they go. Inception can look closely into the DNA of cells and determine where mutations might happen within the genetic code. This has the potential to allow doctors to get ahead of diseases for once! Just think: We could be on the cusp of a healthcare revolution in which AI can help us live longer lives.

There’s just one problem. One huge problem, actually. Technology like AI may be ready to help us, but we aren’t quite ready for it. This is because many companies developing AI systems aren’t implementing human centered design methodologies into their design processes.

We don’t mean to sound negative. Truly, we don’t. When implemented carefully and properly, AI can have a powerful impact on patient outcomes and the entire healthcare system. Not only can it potentially improve patient care by accelerating diagnoses and aiding with treatments, but it can also reduce costs by eliminating procedures and tests that are not necessary. But we can’t expect to snap our fingers and have technology magically work. Technology can never work without humans being involved, and many companies don’t seem to realize the importance of human centered design when it comes to the success of AI systems. Human centered design starts with understanding a real problem or need of people and then understanding and defining how technology can solve it. If designers can’t do this, then AI in healthcare will never work. Can it be done? Yes. It can easily be achieved by integration or addition of human factors experts to the project team.

AI Needs Human Factors To Succeed.

If you’ve been reading our recent blogs about human factors in healthcare, you’re familiar with the challenges that our current healthcare system already faces. From the inability of providers to control enormous data breaches to issues implementing poorly designed electronic health records – healthcare workers have enough on their plates to learn and fix. Throwing AI-based technology that has a steep learning curve into an already broken system can be a recipe for failure… or worse if human factors is not involved.

Just look at the attempts to use AI to tailor patient treatment plans. IBM’s Watson, which over the past few years has been heavily marketed as AI to fight cancer, massively failed when it attempted to prescribe the drug Avastin to a patient being treated with chemotherapy for lung cancer. This patient had a history of severe bleeding. Avastin, which is known to have a side effect of bleeding, should never have been suggested by Watson. Its technology might be a great aid to a human, but it’s not ready to be the sole panacea solution.

IBM had an excellent marketing campaign for Watson. After all, what provider doesn’t want to work with a system that’s advertised to combat one of the worst diseases known to man? But what they promised was not what they delivered. Watson’s creators ultimately blamed its failure on fabricated patient data which trained the algorithm. Now, had human factors experts been on the design team in the first place, this would never have happened. Fabricated patient data is a very common issue with AI. AI programs are comprised of algorithms (or rules). In order to learn the rules, algorithms must be given data by humans and account for every possible permeatation of rules and data.  As if this wasn’t enough of a challenge, human errors or subjective (incorrect) assessments unintentionally make their way into the data because no system is in place to prevent this issue from happening. As a result, AI becomes riddled with mistakes and unreliable. This leaves patients open to harm, and healthcare systems and AI developers open to lawsuits. No one wins… and all because of a design flaw. This is just one example in a long chain of AI issues that often plague developers.

“This product is a piece of $h$t,” a doctor at Florida’s Jupiter Hospital reportedly said to IBM about Watson. “We bought it for marketing and with hopes that you would achieve the vision. We can’t use it for most cases.” This is the last thing you want to hear as a company that sells AI systems. If it can happen to IBM, it can happen to any business – large or small. Unless, that is, you work with human factors experts who understand user experience as well as users’ capabilities and whether or not they fit into AI’s design and its environment. Whether you’re designing an app or a way to treat the most complex diseases known to man, your end goal is to help people live better lives. With human factors experts on your team, you can increase the likelihood of success and do just that. Humans may not be ready for AI to solve all of our health problems just yet, but there is great utility and promise with this technology. Working together we will make it happen.

Let us help your company build AI products that revolutionize healthcare!

At Sophic Synergistics, our focus is on helping you build and develop autonomous technology that delivers the best in human centered design and user experience outcomes. Our methodology is unique. We focus on the bigger picture of how to implement a human centered design methodology within the strategic framework of your organization and your individual projects. To us, you’re not a client. You’re a partner. Contact us today.