AI Enters Medicine, But Can Doctors Be More Human?

How bad is it?
How bad is it?
Tori Otten

PARIS — With breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence promising to revolutionize all aspects of our lives, the field of medicine is far from immune. Radiology will be one of the first medical fields to be transformed by AI, French daily Les Echos reported earlier this month, with algorithms on the verge of being able to establish diagnoses on their own. Meanwhile, a robot in China just took the national medical exam — passing with a top score, and in one-tenth the time as the living-and-breathing doctors-to-be.

Of course, one thing a robot doctor could never do is be human — though it looks like some humans are having trouble with that, too. It turns out that doctors today are struggling with the side effects of "hypertechnicity;" that is, with all the technological advances to keep on top of, they are falling short when it comes to bedside manner and emotional support of their patients. The Swiss daily Le Temps reported this week on Alexandre Wenger, a literature professor at the University of Geneva, who is trying to combat this problem by encouraging medical students to take literature and writing courses — part of a movement called "narrative medicine" that traces its roots to Columbia University in the 1990s.

No substitute for hard science requirements

Wenger's classes today are designed to keep medical students in touch with their humanity. For example, he has them analyze excerpts from Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilych, including a passage where a military doctor talks to the main character, a judge, who is dying. "By peeling it back, word by word, this excerpt lets us confront the patient's perspective — what he understand, his feelings — in the doctor's words," Wenger told Le Temps.

Wenger does not suggest that medical students substitute comparative lit. courses for their hard science requirements. "If a doctor is getting ready to operate on me, I'd obviously prefer it if he studied surgery instead of Horace," said Wenger.

Instead, the goal is to create a sense of balance. "A doctor has to be able to interpret a patient's story, to understand the meaning and the actors, in order to make a diagnosis," said Wenger. "Care becomes the construction of a common story, where the words are a shared support."

No doubt, an AI startup somewhere is trying to build a robot that can do that too.

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money but the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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