New Zealand researchers say artificial intelligence could enhance surgery

SYDNEY — Researchers in New Zealand say that artificial intelligence, or AI, can help solve problems for patients and doctors.  

A new study from the University of Auckland says that an emerging area is the use of AI during operations using so-called “computer vision.”

The study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, says that artificial intelligence has the potential to identify abnormalities during operations and to unburden overloaded hospitals by enhancing the monitoring of patients to help them recover after surgery at home.

The New Zealand research details how AI “tools are rapidly maturing for medical applications.”  It asserts that “medicine is entering an exciting phase of digital innovation.”

The New Zealand team is investigating computer vision, which describes a machine’s understanding of videos and images. 


Dr. Chris Varghese, a doctoral researcher in the Department of Surgery at the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Auckland, led the AI research team.

He told VOA the technology has great potential.

“The use of AI in surgery is a really emerging field. We are seeing a lot of exciting research looking at what we call computer vision, where AI is trying to learn what surgeons see, what the surgical instruments look like, what the different organs look like, and the potential there is to identify abnormal anatomy or what the safest approach to an operation might be using virtual reality and augmented reality to plan ahead of surgeries, which could be really useful in cutting out cancers and things like that.”

Varghese said doctors in New Zealand are already using AI to help sort through patient backlogs.


“We are using automated algorithms to triage really long waiting lists,” he said. “So, getting people prioritized and into clinics ahead of time, based on need, so the right patients are seen at the right time.”

The researchers said there are limitations to the use of artificial intelligence because of concerns about data privacy and ethics.

The report concludes that “numerous apprehensions remain with regard to the integration of AI into surgical practice, with many clinicians perceiving limited scope in a field dominated by experiential” technology.

The study also says that “autonomous robotic surgeons…. is the most distant of the realizable goals of surgical AI systems.”

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