Tag: Healthcare AI

What Robotaxis Mean for Healthcare


You may have seen that last week the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) gave approval for two companies to operate self-driving taxicabs (“robotaxis”) in San Francisco, available 24/7 and able to charge fares.  Think Uber or Lyft but without drivers. 

It has seemed inevitable for several years now, yet we’re not really ready.  It reminds me, of course, of how the future is coming fast for healthcare too, especially around artificial intelligence, and we’re not really ready for that either.

The two companies, Cruise (owned by GM) and Waymo (owned by Alphabet) have been testing the service for some time, under certain restrictions, and this approval loosens (but does not completely remove) the restrictions. The approval was not without controversy; indeed, the San Francisco police and fire departments,  among others, opposed it. “They are failing to regulate a dangerous, nascent industry,” said Justin Kloczko, a tech and privacy advocate for consumer protection non-profit Consumer Watchdog.  

The companies brag about their record of no fatalities, but the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency has collected almost 600 “incidents” involving autonomous vehicles, even with what they believe is very incomplete reporting.  “While we do not yet have the data to judge AVs against the standard human drivers are setting,” CPUC Commissioner John Reynolds admitted, “I do believe in the potential of this technology to increase safety on the roadway.”

I’m willing to stipulate that autonomous vehicle technology is not quite there yet, especially when mostly surrounded by human-driven vehicles, but I also have great confidence that we’ll get there quickly, and that it will radically change not just our driving but also our desire for owning vehicles. 

One of the most thoughtful discussions I’ve on the topic is from David Zipper in The Atlantic. He posits: 

A century ago, the U.S. began rearranging its cities to accommodate the most futuristic vehicles of the era, privately owned automobiles—making decisions that have undermined urban life ever since. Robotaxis could prove equally transformative, which makes proceeding with caution all the more necessary.

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The Business Reality of Healthcare AI


I was at the barbershop the other day and overheard one barber talking with his senior citizen customer about when – not if – robot AIs would become barbers. I kid you not.

Now, I don’t usually expect to heard conversations about technology at the barber, but it illustrates that I think we are at the point with AI that we were with the Internet in the late ‘90’s/early ‘00s: people’s lives were just starting to change because of it, new companies were jumping in with ideas about how to use it, and existing companies knew they were going to have to figure out ways to incorporate it if they wanted to survive. Lots of missteps and false starts, but clearly a tidal wave that could only be ignored at one’s own risk. So now it is with AI.

I’ve been pleased that healthcare has been paying attention, probably sooner than it acknowledged the Internet. Every day, it seems, there are new developments about how various kinds of AI are showing usefulness/potential usefulness in healthcare, in a wide variety of ways.  There’s lots of informed discussions about how it will be best used and where the limits will be, but as a long-time observer of our healthcare system, I think we’re not talking enough about two crucial questions. Namely:

  • Who will get paid?
  • Who will get sued?

Now, let me clarify that these are less unclear in some cases than others.  e.g., when AI assists in drug discovery, pharma can produce more drugs and make more money; when it assists health insurers with claims processing or prior authorizations, that results in administrative savings that go straight to the bottom line. No, the tricky part is using AI in actual health care delivery, such as in a doctor’s office or a hospital. 

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