THE FEATURE - LEADER SPOTLIGHT
This Week We Asked Five Questions to DR. Chris Stout
LinkedIn Top Voice | Best Selling Author | Psychologist | Adventurer | Startup Whisperer | (Accidental) Humanitarian | Éminence Grise
1. Your extensive background spans psychology, business, government, non-profits, academia, and entrepreneurship. How do you see these diverse experiences informing your perspective on the application of AI in healthcare? How can interdisciplinary thinking enhance AI's role in improving global health outcomes?
AI is best viewed as a tool rather than an all-encompassing solution. In my early clinical days, I feared misdiagnosing psychiatric symptoms which might be due to an endocrine disorder. Drawing from my math/computer science background, I designed a basic program to assess symptoms and suggest potential non-psychiatric diagnoses or referrals. This was a guide, not a solution.
Discussing the vast realm of healthcare, predictions can be challenging. My current insights may soon be viewed as naive or incorrect, so take them with caution. I believe AI will significantly aid drug discovery. There is nascent work afoot as I write this, in the area for treating individuals with schizophrenia.
While many ChatBots exist, they aren't flawless. Algorithms like GPT-2 can harbor racist, sexist, and homophobic biases. For instance, the South Korean chatbot, Lee Luda, started using derogatory language after extensive interactions, showcasing the embedded pitfalls in AI.
2. As the Founding Director of the Center for Global Initiatives and having traveled to many countries, you have a unique understanding of global health needs. In what ways can AI be leveraged to address these diverse health issues? Can you provide an example of a health challenge that could be better addressed through AI integration?
The first thing that comes to mind is orphan drug development and neglected tropical diseases, along with medication development, refinement, and distribution based on ethnobotany. I worked on a project in Benin a few years ago on the latter, and we found there is need for language translation from native tongues, Latin genus/species classifications, and French, just to create a taxonomy of the plants that held promising medicinal properties. Then there is looking at toxicity, side effect profiles, potency, dosing, clinical efficacy, patient variation, genetic impact, etc. Most all of those could be augmented and accelerated by using AI.
As for the former, ditto. Years ago, I did research and wrote about the orphan drug development problem and neglected tropical diseases, and public agencies like the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation focus and fund initiatives in these areas. Seems perfect for tech and AI to be marshaled to help there as well.
3. You have significant experience with start-ups and serve as an advisory board member and investor. How can emerging healthcare companies most effectively leverage AI in their services or products? What advice would you give to a health-focused startup looking to utilize AI?
I think we’ll see funding via National Science Foundation grants from the government to fund innovative startups’ proposals, however my caution/advice would be that founders should not underestimate the complexity of mental illness, the diversity of symptom presentation, and the concomitant complexities of treatment, and the difficulties of gaining payment that is adequate to the development costs, let alone get to profitability. I have seen a number, and worked with a few, that imagined it would be easy-and-simple to throw a budding and sexy technology to the problems of mental illness and have it work at a significant, lasting and scalable level; pass muster in randomized control trials; and be safe for human subject testing, all within a highly regulated environment that is more sophisticated than an Airbnb, Uber or TikTok.
It is incumbent on founders who want to be successful in this space to bring together the diverse parties and experts to inform the developers of the myriad of challenges of not only care provision, evidence-based treatment guidelines (predicated on big data[bases]), proper assessment and diagnosis, applicable treatment approaches (based on availability, cost, applicability to a patient’s demographics, culture, medical history, genetics, lifestyle, social determinates and whatnot), but also to measure and track clinical outcomes and follow-up vis-à-vis recidivism, readmissions, and relapse rates. Then to constantly use the new findings to improve said outcomes, iterate, and develop their tools to perform even better. That all sounds like a job AI can help with, but not do. At least not yet (see Bohr above).
4. As a licensed clinical psychologist, how do you see AI transforming the field of psychology and mental health? Can AI play a part in not only treatment but also in the early detection and prevention of mental health issues?
You bet, and it is now. Perhaps two good treatment examples are IESO Digital Health which uses AI to analyze the language used in its therapy sessions through natural-language processing, where machines process transcripts, with the goal to provide therapists with a better insight into their work to ensure the delivery of high standards of care and to help trainees improve. Lyssn.io provides clinics and universities with a technology designed to improve quality control and training. I have also met with folks from mental health outcomes companies Mirah and Clinicom, the latter being a bit more impressive with their tech approach. Nabla as tools to automate clinical charting. Their API seems open.
We need to be very, very cautious to not “Minority Report” early detection – see Challenges for Artificial Intelligence in Recognizing Mental Disorders, for example. Remember my clunky software I developed when starting my clinical practice was only a PROBABILISTIC tool to aid (just) me in my differential psychodiagnostic process, not do it for me.
As for prevention, that is more so a job for social, cultural, philosophical, interpersonal, genetic, parental, and environmental influences, not an AI. But that is just my opinion, albeit biased.
5. Hot Take Question - AI vs. Human Touch: You've dedicated your life to various facets of healthcare, all revolving around human well-being. Some argue that AI might desensitize healthcare, taking away the 'human touch' that's essential in patient care. What is your 'hot take' on this? Is there a middle ground where AI and human touch coexist in harmony?
Oh Yes, for sure. Pundits are voicing concerns about AI's impact on art, literature, jobs, and particularly healthcare. A significant element of psychotherapy is the therapeutic relationship, which AI might challenge. Yet people form connections with technology, as depicted in films like "Her" or personal affections for objects like motorcycles. John McCarthy introduced the term “Artificial Intelligence” in 1955, and by 1964, ELIZA became the first psychotherapist chatbot. Surprisingly, "machine learning" only debuted in leading American medical journals in 2016.
Also, we need to be cognizant of side-effects.
“I’d like to think AI is agnostic, bias-free and data-centric, but with AI—just as with humans—you are what you eat. In one of my podcast episodes with Heather Dewey-Hagborg, we discussed the programmed-in biases of coders based on the availability of data/images’ subsequent impact on facial recognition based on what they built from. Topol noted Cathy O’Neil’s finding in her book Weapons of Math Destruction that ‘many of these models encoded human prejudice, misunderstanding, and bias.’ Uh-oh.”
AI offers immense potential as a tool, complementing human expertise. Merging human intuition with AI creates a powerful alliance. However, integrating philosophy and ethics into AI remains a priority. While automation is advantageous, humans should always be ready to intervene when challenges arise.
Dr. Chris Stout is a psychologist and international humanitarian with a diverse background in startups, nonprofits, academia, the UN and government, having worked or traveled in all 50 states, over 100 countries and 6 continents. He is a Best-Selling Author and recipient of four Humanitarian Awards and four additional honorary doctorates.