Any long-time reader of my articles will know that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is one of those topics I could revisit again and again. There are just so many possibilities within this field, and as the technology continues to progress, it’s opening countless doors that could transform the face of not just dentistry, but the world we live in.
While I usually focus these articles on AI innovations that are dental specific, I wanted to take the opportunity to look at some of the other, more general steps forward we’re taking – many of which could have applications in dentistry, or in the very least impact our working lives, in the future.
AI and vaccine development
Arguably one of the most impressive aspects of our pandemic response was the fast development of multiple vaccines. Where usually a vaccine could take decades to perfect, the use of AI enabled scientists to assess extraordinary amounts of data in record times, leading to a roll-out that has, undoubtedly, saved many lives.[i]
In fact, AI has helped to completely revolutionise drug discovery throughout the last decade or so. Due to the ability to create AI that analyses aspects of viruses and bacteria and identify any possible weaknesses that can be exploited, we are now able to develop drugs in record time. The far-reaching consequences are obvious – you only have to look at the Covid-19 vaccine to see how AI is literally cutting decades off necessary research time to understand how AI is quickly shaping the future of medicine.
It may well be the case that this same technology is used along the line to develop more medicines and drugs we use in dentistry – better anaesthetics, more effective antibiotics, even drugs that could put an end to plaque bacteria. There are so many possibilities here that could make such a huge difference.
Breaking the language barrier and beyond
A timeless barrier to communication has always been language. This isn’t just limited to spoken word, but also includes body language, intent and visual understanding. While technology that parrots human speech is nothing new, AI developments in this area are continually pushing this technology forward, with the latest language models becoming more human in understanding and capabilities every day.
What’s so fascinating about this is that these models are leading to the creation of better virtual assistants and “chatbots” – AI with more human interaction capabilities that can be harnessed by businesses for websites and other platforms where people may require information. For a dental practice, this could be invaluable, especially as a chatbot could reliably field enquiries and supply information without taking up human time.
Entering an era of quantum computing
While the complexities of quantum computing are, admittedly, difficult to decipher, this new approach to AI could have untold positive impact on our future. In a nutshell, quantum computing is effectively harnessing the powers of quantum mechanics and applying this to computing for systems that exceed the powers of even the most sophisticated supercomputers of today.
Quantum computing is engineered to approach problem-solving in a different way compared to traditional CPU systems that are often unable to cope with problems with too many variables. For example, even a straightforward problem may result in millions of different outcomes, and supercomputers usually don’t have the working memory to assess these accurately and find the best possible result. Quantum computing works differently in that it has been especially designed for these sorts of problems. As such, it has already led to a number of breakthroughs including quantum battery technology for electric vehicles, carbon emission-reduction due to new material discoveries and more.[ii]
As for applications in dentistry, it depends whether these systems will be directed towards questions that are relevant to our industry. Perhaps quantum computing will be used to assess aspects of our industry such as the NHS contract or other scenarios where vast amounts of variables come into play – we can’t know at the present, but the possibilities are ripe for the plucking.
Driverless cars are zooming closer
A deliciously sci-fi style advancement in technology that may soon be making real change is the further advancement of fully automated driving. Many of the leading car manufacturers are testing this sort of AI, and in places such as Phoenix, Arizona, driverless taxis are now a service that people can use.[iii]
Although this technology is still smoothing out some bumps, there’s a real potential here for driverless vehicles to become the norm in the near future. This should help to minimise human incident, make roads safer and could definitely make our commutes a safer and more stress-free experience – not even to mention more environmentally friendly if these vehicles are also sustainable.
AI is making the future, today
With AI progressing so rapidly, it’s not impossible to imagine that these developments will soon be making significant changes to our way of life, not only inside the practice but outside as well. Keeping up to date with these advancements is always a good idea, especially as the future, like all things, is uncertain. But with AI on our side, the future is looking bright.
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[i] Frontiers in Artificial Intelligence. Artificial Intelligence for Covid-19 Drug Discovery and Vaccine Development. Link: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frai.2020.00065/full [Last accessed November 21].
[ii] IBM. Quantum. What is Quantum Computing. Link: https://www.ibm.com/quantum-computing/what-is-quantum-computing/ [Last accessed November 21].
[iii] The Conversation. Robot Take The Wheel: Waymo Has Launched A Self-Driving Taxi Service. Link: https://theconversation.com/robot-take-the-wheel-waymo-has-launched-a-self-driving-taxi-service-147908 [Last accessed November 21].