Though adoption has been slow in the health care industry, Reid Rasmussen of freshbenies says “smart machines” at work are coming. (Image: Shutterstock)

Technology, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, keeps getting smarter and smarter, according to Reid Rasmussen, cofounder and CEO of freshbenies. Speaking yesterday at the 2018 BenefitsPRO Broker Expo, Rasmussen said one of the best examples of machine learning is the use of spam filters.

“It’s the single biggest way that all of our lives have been improved in recent decades and it’s all due to machine learning,” Rasmussen said. “Perhaps it’s because of where the email came from or it could be the phrases or words within the message” that causes it to get kicked out.

The key point, he added, is that through this intuitive interface, the false or spam email never reaches your inbox, and it’s the machine that’s figured out which emails to block and, just as importantly, which ones to keep.

The new wave of PDAs

Tonia Degner, chief strategy officer at freshbenies, joined Rasmussen on stage to discuss the power of AI and machine learning and how personal digital assistants—think Alexa, Google Home and Siri—have become an ever-present part of our lives. Degner said more than 100 million of the devices currently reside in American homes, and they have infiltrated the way we look for answers and the way technology helps us find them.

To emphasize the point, she referred to a talk she heard given by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos. “Machine learning and artificial intelligence will be used to empower and improve every business,” Bezos said. “Basically there’s no institution in the world that cannot be improved with machine learning and artificial intelligence.”

AI in health care

Though adoption has been slow in the health care industry, Rasmussen said he has experienced examples of “smart machines” at work. Take, for example, an MRI being used to diagnose breast cancer. “What they will do is take images of different ‘slices’ of the body,” Rasmussen said. “And each one of those images is ten gigapixels of data and what the pathologist is looking for is a certain shadow or some kind of bubble that shows up on those images.”

According to Rasmussen, these images require an enormous amount of analysis and that job is performed by a company that’s being supported by Google. This company, Rasmussen said, ran billions of images through the machine with the purpose of “learning” what a shadow looks like. “Today, pathologists will properly diagnose breast cancer 73 percent of the time,” Rasmussen said. “While the Google program diagnoses it 89 percent and that’s because of the volume.”

This advanced technology doesn’t mean the pathologist is out of a job, Rasmussen said. Instead, the machine learning now allows the pathologist to focus on other aspects of diagnoses such as what type of cancer is present and what type of treatment is best for this individual.”

Make the investment

To see AI reach its potential in the health care field, the industry has to be willing to “invest in the future,” Rasmussen said. “There are tools available and tools coming online, but we have to use them and invest in them.”

Degner said there’s one other element that is vital to seeing machine learning flourish in health care. “We need to have a relentless pursuit of the customer experience. To make that happen we have to see around the corner for the customer.”

She added that Apple has had incredible success in following that path. “There was a time when you would have had to pry my Blackberry out of my cold dead hands,” she said. “But I wouldn’t even touch a Blackberry now because Apple could see around what I needed that I didn’t even know that I needed yet.”

She said it’s a philosophy that the health care industry needs to adopt, one that Steve Jobs described best when he triumphantly returned to the company he founded. “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology,” Jobs said. “You can’t start with the technology and figure out where you’re going to sell it.”