Doctor Clippy


Can a Computer Replace Your Doctor?
“I would trust an A.I. over a doctor any day,” [Dr.* Vivek Wadhwa ] proclaimed at a recent health innovation conference in San Francisco, noting that artificial intelligence provided “perfect knowledge.”

Ah, yes. I certainly want a computer that still can’t reliably recognize speech to diagnose me and prescribe drugs.

These “singularity” types always seem to confuse the magnificent possibilities for the current sad reality. The reality is that expert systems (as opposed to full AI) are useful tools in the box of a person capable of judgment in addition to the ability to blindly follow checklists.

Someday, AI might truly get somewhere. For now… Well, I’ve been hearing that we’ll achieve true AI, reliable speech recognition, and commercial fusion within five years… for most of my life.

* About that “doctor”: According to Wadhwa’s own website bio, he has a ” B.A. in Computing Studies from the University of Canberra, in Australia, and an MBA from New York University.” No mention of a doctorate. His background is IT and CompSci, which might give him some expertise on the subject of AI, but should also have clued him in on the numerous AI fails.


3 thoughts on “Doctor Clippy

  1. TRX September 21, 2014 / 12:38 pm

    > can’t reliable recognize speech

    That’s a *much* larger problem than it looks like. I’m 54 years old and a native English speaker. I have moderate hearing loss in one ear; about average for my age group. But, even as a child, most of what people said was “Mug fuh guh wobbit arble bah.”

    In consequence, I listen *very closely* to what people say. Most people substitute wrong words, leave words completely out, substitute inflection for meaning, speak only in fragments, use slang or MTV-speak that means nothing to me, or simply mumble so badly there’s not enough signal to parse. When I repeat back to them *exactly* what they said, they deny it, of course. And then get angry. My wife threatened me with divorce if I played back the the tape recorder one more time…

    Most people, of course, don’t actually listen very hard; they just wait for a keyword here or there and go off on their own monologue.


    • mamaliberty2014 September 22, 2014 / 10:23 am

      Oh yes, indeed. 🙂 I have been hearing impaired for 65 years, due to inner ear infections as a child. I hear plenty of sound, but do not differentiate well between them, and speech is the most difficult thing to understand. I read lips and body language, and guess a lot, but much of the speech I hear is unintelligible, especially over the telephone – since there aren’t any visual clues to work with.

      Never did try any of the “voice recognition” software, simply because others said plainly that it was mostly a waste of time. It sure would be NICE to have, however. Someone could do the deaf and hearing impaired of the world a lot of good if they could figure out a way to reliably turn speech into text without a human interpreter. We’d just have to wade through and sift out the wheat from amid all the chaff of nonsense, of course.

      As for computers as replacements for all doctors? Not a chance. They are welcome to perform all sorts of diagnostic tests and suggest treatments based on them… but I will remain the final arbitrator of my health and will choose a trusted, experienced human to help me decide what to actually do, when doing anything is necessary. I’ve found that at least 90% of health “problems” will resolve themselves with time and attention to a healthy immune system. Broken bones and serious fluid leaks are an exception, of course. And a computer isn’t going to help much with those anyway.


  2. September 26, 2014 / 3:32 pm

    Computers can do pretty good with properly enunciated, grammatical English. But few people actually speak properly enunciated, grammatical English. They think they do, but what they think they’re saying is often quite different from what comes out of their mouth.

    If you get a chance, Google up the transcriptions of “The White House Tapes” from the Nixon administration. You can find some of the Johnson and Kennedy tape MP3s online, but I haven’t found transcribed versions of them yet.

    Anyway, you have Richard Nixon, a highly educated man, a lawyer and former Congressman, someone who makes his living with words. You have him talking to Senators, Congressmen, judges, political appointees, and his staff, most of those people also being lawyers.

    Some of the staff meetings are basically incomprehensible. Imagine one side of some hip-hop gangsta phone conversation, transcribed to text, and then a cat walked across the keyboard.

    Given the style of communication, I absolutely believe Nixon didn’t order or approve of the Watergate break-ins. And I also absolutely believe that’s what his staffers *thought* he asked him to do.

    I guess we should feel lucky it was something as mild as Watergate, and not, say, sending SAC out to bomb St. Louis.

    The Navy takes some flak over repeating orders back before executing them, but I bet a lot of officers have been startled at what their subordinates thought they’d heard…


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