Will artificial intelligence one day take the place of optometrists?

Much is currently being made about the next revolution in society. We had the agricultural or green revolution. Then the industrial, then the electronic and most recently the digital revolutions. Each have promised benefits in reducing labour costs and demands, and offered hopes for a better wealth distribution and greater access to leisure and family time.

Most would agree that, though major advances have been achieved, not least in the field of access to health care, wealth creation has tended to favour the owners of the various technologies core to each of these revolutions. Indeed, as most readers will have found, the recent advances in digital technology have actually resulted in the insidious extension of working hours for most as it has removed the need for a single time and place of focus for workers. The next major development, already well in place, is the rise of artificial intelligence – some are calling this the robot revolution.

But is this likely to have any impact upon eye care? A recent report predicted that, of the professions most likely to be replaced by some form of artificial intelligence, medical diagnostics was in the top five. If accurate algorithms exist to analyse clinical data and then be able to design a remedial management plan, the removal of human error is predicted to make many areas of clinical care more efficient and effective. Certainly, analyses of other areas where humans are kept out of the loop, such as the use of driverless cars, have found that the only drawbacks are when other humans are allowed to interact.

Some image analysis programmes are under development which should make data interpretation more robust. There are also developments in diagnosis based on interpretation of gathered information. With the evolution of telemedicine, nano and macro-robotic designs and 3D printing, are we really only going to have our interpersonal communication skills to fall back on one day?