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July 19, 2016updated 28 Mar 2017 4:12pm

Digital disruption changing industries and governments

By John Oates

The trouble with digital disruption is that you can’t see it coming. Every new technology brings entirely unexpected and unpredicted consequences.

For instance local councils have a duty to maintain the roads and to fill in potholes. But they don’t spend a lot of money sending people out to look for potholes. And reporting the exact location and type of hole to the right council is a hassle which most people can’t be bothered with.

While potholes are annoying for motorists they can be extremely dangerous for cyclists.

Which is why a cycling charity employed some coders to create a mobile app called FillThatHole to make this process almost friction free.

You use your smartphone to take a photo of the hazard, tag your location and details of the size of the hole. Then the app automatically sends the report to the right person at the right council.

This might initially seem like a huge pain and expense for councils but some have now set up their own similar systems. Because acting quickly is often cheaper than waiting for the problem to get worse. And of course a repair is far cheaper than paying a costly repair to someone’s car or bike or even worse a personal injury claim.

A far cleverer use of this sort of disruptive technology comes from Joshua Browder a British student studying at Stanford University. He created an artificial intelligence chatbot, dubbed DoNotPay, to help people challenge parking tickets. It asks a series of questions to see if there are any grounds for appeal and then automatically begins the appeal process. The time and hassle of dealing with these sorts of bureaucratic processes stops many people from ever complaining, even if they’re sure they were in the right.

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Since launch Browder’s application has saved drivers millions of dollars in successfully contested parking tickets in New York and London.

Browder hopes to develop the application to effectively automate other more complex legal processes which currently require a lawyer.

A potentially even more disruptive move comes from Moorfields Eye Hospital which recently did a deal with Deepmind Health – an offshoot of the technology which beat the world’s best Go player. Go is a fiendishly complicated Chinese board game which computers have previously been unable to crack – it requires strategic thinking beyond just analysing possible counter moves and the system needs to react to its opponent.

Moorfields currently carries out 3,000 optical coherence tomography scans every week. The process requires time and highly skilled staff which leads to delays for patients.

The hospital is giving Deepmind access to one million retina scans in the hope that it will learn how to identify diseases.

The next stage will be giving Deepmind access to patient scans during the course of their treatment so that it can advise on best practise and begin to mould future treatment programmes.

Although there are privacy concerns around any project like this the hospital is happy the potential benefits make the risk worthwhile.

The project has the potential to revolutionise the speed and efficiency with which eye disease can be identified as well as changing the way treatments are evaluated and carried out in future.

Healthcare, following finance, is now a key area for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Knowing exactly what sort of impacts all this will have is impossible.

But we can be sure that it will radically disrupt how medical staff, patients and pharmaceutical companies interact in the future.

It will change how, where and when we are treated as big data analysis and predictive technologies are combined.

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