Isn’t it strange when everyone is raving about something — but you just — don’t get it? That’s the position Dr David Watkins found himself in in 2015.
had launched in the UK and promised to provide the powers of AI and telemedicine to the NHS. The Babylon chimera lets you video consult with a doctor, often on the same day. This was slightly controversial
, but not compared to its other head.
Babylon had developed a sophisticated chatbot AI. After a game of 20 questions, the chatbot would suggest a diagnosis — although crucially (from a regulatory standpoint) it wouldn’t diagnose you.
You would then be directed (triaged) to appropriate care. Mild headache and flu-like symptoms? No problem! Stay at home and take paracetamol. One-sided weakness and slurring your words? Call 999 🚑
Dr Watkins installed the app and began testing it. The details of this testing are disputed — Babylon who refer to him as a ‘troll’
claim that he ran 2400 tests, Dr Watkins claims just hundreds.
More insidiously, Dr Watkins began to notice mistakes the chatbot was making — mistakes that no doctor would ever make. In one test, a 59-year old smoker presents with central chest pain and nausea. Cookie-cutter symptoms of a heart attack, and he is duly warned.
The exact same situation but this time, the patient is a woman—
This week’s podcast is the story of Dr Watkin’s fight against Babylon. It’s a David and Goliath story — a lone oncologist fighting a Saudi-backed behemoth, valued at $2 billion.