Although the term “artificial intelligence” was coined at the 1956 Dartmouth Conference, the idea of intelligent computers goes back nearly 100 years. In fact, the term “robot” was first used in the 1920s.
Artificial intelligence used to be the stuff of science fiction – think The Jetsons, R2D2 and The Terminator – but is now widely deployed in business. When you tell Alexa to play music or an e-commerce website recommends products, that’s artificial intelligence at work.
Artificial intelligence is the ability of a machine to learn, think, reason, make decisions, and perform tasks like a human would. Using advanced algorithms, the machine becomes more intelligent as more data is absorbed, enabling the machine to become more accurate and effective. You also may have heard of machine learning and deep learning, both of which are subsets of artificial intelligence.
Of course, this begs a simple question. Will machines replace humans in the workforce? In some cases, they have, especially in industries like manufacturing. But is it possible that artificial intelligence will replace nurses?
Replace? Not in your lifetime. Assist? Yes, and they already are.
One artificial intelligence expert from the UK said, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that the last two jobs that machines take will be plumbers and nurses. Plumbers are safe because it’s a trade that requires a lot of flexibility, dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
Nurses are also safe because of the compassion and empathy that are difficult for machines to replicate. Will a machine know to hold a patient’s hand before surgery or a test? Will a machine be able to inform a family about someone’s condition in a way that’s both informative and reassuring? Will a machine be able to handle a pressure-filled situation in which emotions are running high?
That technology doesn’t exist. But artificial intelligence can play an important role in a hospital or medical facility.
In the immediate future, machines, robots or computers with artificial intelligence are more likely to handle routine tasks. For example, voice recognition applications might be used for data entry. Intelligent machines can assign rooms, dispense medication, schedule tasks, automate charting, and assist with discharge procedures.
In Japan, large robots are being used to lift patients and transfer them to a bed or wheelchair. In the U.S., robots are being used as runners to transport medication, linens and lab specimens. Artificial intelligence is also a valuable training tool because it can challenge students to handle various scenarios in a virtual, simulated environment.
Artificial intelligence technology has advanced quite a bit in the past five years, but it’s still in its infancy. Simple tasks can be automated in a way that both improve patient care and relieve nurses of a small portion of their workload. The good news is, artificial intelligence, like other technology, could allow nurses to spend less time on mundane tasks and more time on patient care, which is why they chose the nursing profession in the first place.
Rather than viewing artificial intelligence as a threat, nurses should learn about tools and research the latest trends to see how technology can help them care for patients more effectively.