December 10th, 2009

eyes black and white

A killer app for the XO? MYCIN!

Doctors are expensive. Yet most of what they do is follow a simple algorithm with lots of rules. A human aided by an expert system could do the very same thing, for cheaper!

Of course, in rich countries, the established trade unions will never let such a thing be deployed, suing whoever tries to help others with it for unlicensed use of medecine, to protect their legal monopoly. The bastards will also (rightfully this time) argue that a trained physician will know the rules just as well, and be able to better interpret the rules and more importantly, to better interpret the many elements to use as input.

And still, an untrained person with a machine could do all the easy things that a doctor would try, and redirect only the hard cases to a doctor. And in a poor country, that could save a lot of lives. And even in currently rich countries, a lot of money could be saved, and the effort of trained doctors could be redirected where they too would be able to save a lot of lives.

Moreover, such an expert system is not fantasy, it has already been written, long ago: MYCIN. It could easily be updated, and then customized with regional data about which diseases are prevalent where, and what treatment is available at what price there. And of course, it could be taylored towards the non-expert in a way that flags situations where a human expert is needed vs situations where a simple treatment should be tried first.

Let's give MYCIN on an XO to teachers, priests and social workers. A cheap way to save plenty of lives!

Did I say XO? I meant cell phone — maybe equipped with an optical modification to diagnose malaria!