Artificial intelligence & health discussed in seminar series held at UNCW


Genevieve Guenther

Brooke Peery, Contributing Writer

Artificial intelligence could be the new way to assist healthcare workers, said Dr. Mohd Anwar, an associate professor of computer science from North Carolina A&T State University, Monday in UNC Wilmington’s Lumina Theater.

“Analyz[ing] data from a patient’s medical record” is one of the main behaviors that researchers and developers are trying to teach artificial intelligence systems to do, said Anwar in a presentation combining artificial intelligence with health.

In an ever-evolving world where more and more of Americans’ daily lives are performed by technology, one must begin to question how it will work beyond helping to set reminders or create grocery lists. Artificial intelligence is becoming involved with administering medications, making diagnoses and determining the severity of  illnesses

For Monday’s lecture, Anwar teamed up with Karl Ricanek, a computer science professor at UNCW, to discuss how the newest forms of artificial intelligence research are advancing toward being able to help humans live healthier lives. This talk, called “AI and Health” was the second in the Artificial Intelligence and Health Seminar Series, which aim to discuss the part that artificial intelligence plays in how healthcare employees manage illness in patients. The first, “Medicine in 2020: What are the implications of artificial intelligence for healthcare as we know it?,” was held in late September.

Ricanek’s research often focuses on facial aging and how certain markers in a person’s face can point to potential health problems. For example, he showed several side-by-side images of identical twins who engaged in different behaviors over the course of their lifetimes, such as smoking or high levels of sun exposure. It was clear to see who looked older in these comparisons; those who engaged in the unhealthy behaviors seemed older in appearance than their twin.

However, Ricanek acknowledged that humans are only capable of so much. “Artificial intelligence can discover things that we miss,” he said. He cited a company that claims to be able to use facial analysis to detect multiple types of genetic disorders as evidence of the efficacy of artificial intelligence in the healthcare field.

Still, all research has limitations. “You do not go to doctors when you are healthy—you only go when you are sick,” said Anwar.

“Today’s research looked primarily at people with poor health,” said Bob Barnes, a civil and biomedical engineer in attendance, but he still viewed the research in a positive light, he said.

This research is “absolutely imperative,” said Steven Fontana, the interim director of the Office of Innovation & Commercialization at UNCW. “I’m looking forward to the continued series,” he said.