Are computers and AI prompting us to think less


The collection of vast amounts of data and the use of more sophisticated algorithms seem beneficial in all fields. However, I have deep concerns about the “other side of the coin” when it comes to artificial intelligence (AI) as discussed in “An FP’s guide to AI-enabled clinical decision support” (J Fam Pract. 2019;68:486-492).

Years ago, when I worked in urgent care, one of my colleagues would log in to her favorite Web site to search for the appropriate diagnosis for almost all of her patients. Surely this physician was able to memorize and regurgitate enough information to get through medical school and pass the boards, but was she able to think, in the sense of using/applying the information she stored away? My answer is, “No!”

Certainly, having a computer helps one to get through medical school. However, while we use terms such as “AI,” I would argue that none of these machines do more than duplicate the algorithmic functioning of the brain. Which leads me to the other side of the coin: Are computers, of which we ask questions and expect legitimate answers in return, helping us to think? Or are they leading us to think less?

In other words, are we inadvertently “dumbing down” as physicians (and as a species)? And do we want a physician who seems less capable of actually processing the sum total of a patient’s complaints, symptoms, and findings in trying to understand the patient’s problem?

While we cannot go back and disconnect from computers, we can make sure that we do not become totally dependent on them. We need to acknowledge this possible blind spot in the evolution of technology (particularly AI)—the potential to reinforce “not thinking”—especially within the medical school environment. There needs to be an awareness of, and a conscious effort to counter, an overreliance on computers thinking for us.

As individual physicians, we owe it to our patients and ourselves, each and every working day, to use our brains to apply our education, training, and accumulated data to help diagnose and treat our patients effectively.

Barry Marged, DO, ABD, MA
Mansfield, OH

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