It seems a common theme that most people assume when Robots replace humans in jobs, that those humans are doing menial, or very low skilled jobs. This is likely due to the previous state where a lot of “dumb” machines replaced many factory workers. However with the advent of AI machines are now a serious threat to even high level white collar jobs such as doctors, lawyers and now, eye specialists.

A new diagnostic device has not only been created, but also already approved by the FDA for use in America. This is an AI that can detect a “greater than a mild level of the eye disease diabetic retinopathy in adults who have diabetes” according to the FDA.

Diabetic retinopathy occurs when high blood sugar levels lead to damaging the retina blood vessels at the back of the eye. This then leads to patients loosing their vision. With it being the most common cause of vision loss for the 30 million+ Americans with diabetes it’s a serious issue.

The earlier it can be diagnosed, the better it can be managed and this new AI called IDx-DR – I know, super catchy name! – is here to help. It’s a software program that uses AI to analyze the image of an eye taken by a retinal camera called the Topcon NW400.

It reportedly has an accuracy of 87% when detecting retinopathy and a 90% accuracy when detecting patients that don’t have the disease. All this while not needing a qualified eye specialist. The way it works in practice is that the primary care doctor’s office takes the pictures of the eye, then they get analysed quickly and efficiently giving an immediate verdict as shown below.

So while this new AI obviously doesn’t completely kick Eye Specialists to the curb, I’m sure you can see it will very likely reduce the demand.

It’s also a very short path from reducing demand to completely removing demand once these types of system come online. The main reason is that because these systems usually make decisions and continue to collect more and more data, they often get better than humans very quickly.

The common path is:

  1. Create a basic product
  2. People use that product which produces more data
  3. That new data improves the product
  4. Eventually the product gets so good it surpasses human abilities

Eventually I’d expect the IDx-DR to stop “referring patients” and come back with a definitive answer of yes/no upon which the primary care doctor can then act on. Either way it’s not only exciting times but very good news to hear that this type of vision saving technology is becoming much more widely accessible.

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