Livin' on the MDedge

The enemy of carcinogenic fumes is my friendly begonia


Maybe AI isn’t ready for the big time after all

“How long before some intrepid stockholder says: ‘Hey, instead of paying doctors, why don’t we just use the free robot instead?’ ” Those words appeared on LOTME but a month ago. After all, the AI is supposed to be smarter and more empathetic than a doctor. And did we mention it’s free? Or at least extremely cheap. Cheaper than, say, a group of recently unionized health care workers.

A teenager in bed looks at her mobile phone. maewjpho/Thinkstock

In early May, the paid employees manning the National Eating Disorders Association emergency hotline voted to unionize, as they felt overwhelmed and underpaid. Apparently, paying six people an extra few thousand a year was too much for NEDA’s leadership, as they decided a few weeks later to fire those workers, fully closing down the hotline. Instead of talking to a real person, people “calling in” for support would be met with Tessa, a wellness chatbot that would hopefully guide them through their crisis. Key word, hopefully.

In perhaps the least surprising twist of the year, NEDA was forced to walk back its decision about a week after its initial announcement. It all started with a viral Instagram post from a woman who called in and received the following advice from Tessa: Lose 1-2 pounds a week, count calories and work for a 500- to 1,000-calorie deficit, weigh herself weekly, and restrict her diet. Unfortunately, all of these suggestions were things that led to the development of the woman’s eating disorder.

Naturally, NEDA responded in good grace, accusing the woman of lying. A NEDA vice president even left some nasty comments on the post, but hastily deleted them a day later when NEDA announced it was shutting down Tessa “until further notice for a complete investigation.” NEDA’s CEO insisted they hadn’t seen that behavior from Tessa before, calling it a “bug” and insisting the bot would only be down temporarily until the triggers causing the bug were fixed.

In the aftermath, several doctors and psychologists chimed in, terming the rush to automate human roles dangerous and risky. After all, much of what makes these hotlines effective is the volunteers speaking from their own experience. An unsupervised bot doesn’t seem to have what it takes to deal with a mental health crisis, but we’re betting that Tessa will be back. As a wise cephalopod once said: Nobody gives a care about the fate of labor as long as they can get their instant gratification.

You can’t spell existential without s-t-e-n-t

This week, we’re including a special “bonus” item that, to be honest, has nothing to do with stents. That’s why our editor is making us call this a “bonus” (and making us use quote marks, too): It doesn’t really have anything to do with stents or health care or those who practice health care. Actually, his exact words were, “You can’t just give the readers someone else’s ****ing list and expect to get paid for it.” Did we mention that he looks like Jack Nicklaus but acts like BoJack Horseman?

Anywaaay, we’re pretty sure that the list in question – “America’s Top 10 Most Googled Existential Questions” – says something about the human condition, just not about stents:

1. Why is the sky blue?

2. What do dreams mean?

3. What is the meaning of life?

4. Why am I so tired?

5. Who am I?

6. What is love?

7. Is a hot dog a sandwich?

8. What came first, the chicken or the egg?

9. What should I do?

10. Do animals have souls?


Recommended Reading

Sweaty treatment for social anxiety could pass the sniff test
MDedge Pediatrics
Lack of food for thought: Starve a bacterium, feed an infection
MDedge Pediatrics
Previously unknown viral families hide in the darnedest places
MDedge Pediatrics
Living the introvert’s dream: Alone for 500 days, but never lonely
MDedge Pediatrics
Drive, chip, and putt your way to osteoarthritis relief
MDedge Pediatrics
Medical-level empathy? Yup, ChatGPT can fake that
MDedge Pediatrics
Boys may carry the weight, or overweight, of adults’ infertility
MDedge Pediatrics
The antimicrobial peptide that even Pharma can love
MDedge Pediatrics
People still want their medical intelligence in human form
MDedge Pediatrics
Ancient plague, cyclical pandemics … history lesson?
MDedge Pediatrics