Competing with computers? You’re looking at it wrong.

The exam period is finally over for the year. Many a time I found myself sitting in an exam hall cursing my bad memory as details slipped away from the clutches of brain…… If only I had my notes. It was this desire that struck me with a realization as to why I see computing differently to clinicians who don’t code.

With the way AI is covered in the news, it’s understandable to see why none coding clinicians can be hesitant to accept it, and thus dismissive. I’ve also come across my fair share of worriers who think that computing is dumbing us down. My mind goes back to a conversation I had with a senior nurse in A and E. I was talking about the possibility of putting in certain parameters into a computer algorithm which will then spit out certain instructions in order to get the right tests done as soon as patients leave the triage room. The Senior nurse replied:

“But then triage nurses will no longer be using their brains.”

Let’s go back to my desire for having my notes in the exam. Could you imagine going through life without being able to read and write? I don’t have to labor the argument here, high chances you already know the downsides of being illiterate. However, before reading and writing, you’d have to remember details and your worth would be valued on your ability to. Every day would be like that exam. Reading and writing is a crutch. Once you’ve written something down it’s not going to be altered, unlike your memory. Writing didn’t render masses of people useless, it actually empowered people. They could spread their ideas around the world. Scientific journals could document the findings of some to be analyzed, refuted and refined by others. Substituting this mental flaw with an external tool accelerated the human race, empowered, liberated, and brought joy to millions. However, if you chose to stay illiterate, then the world and its future will seem like a gloomy place.  Now we have a new tool, computing.

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Like writing, computing can substitute some human flaws and do a better job. Speed, communication, processing is greatly enhanced with a computer. This has done and will continue to bring liberation and empowerment to many. Now you don’t have to be an expert coder or a math genius to reap the rewards of coding. With a few simple lines of high-level code, you can rip through an excel file and analyze/sort data within seconds [link]. Like with reading and writing, you do not have to be a professional to benefit from it. A very small percentage of the reading and writing population are skilled enough to write a good selling novel. However, their life is enriched with the ability to read and write. The same is with code. Coding a platform or fully functioning program will take you ages, loads of different files and data structures will have to talk to each other, you have to get creative with your solutions in order to make it function effectively, and process multiple requests from multiple users. However, a personal script of code that automates a laborious task will take roughly an hour to code and it can be clunky as it’s just sorting out your own personal task. I’ve heard of people coding an algorithm that made the best seating arrangement for their wedding. It was clunky, they coded it quickly and left their computer running over the weekend whilst they did other things. I coded a simple script that went onto my favorite TV show websites every day and alerted me if a new episode was up. It was poorly written and wouldn’t make money if I took it to market but the small time it took coding it paid off. I just run the script instead of going on the internet (avoiding facebook time).

Should everyone learn how to code? Not really. It’s not practical. Compared to reading the writing it’s still in its infancy. Whilst people who could read and write enjoyed many privileges, the disadvantages of illiterates mounted slowly. One comparison we cannot pull from literacy is the timescale. Computing is coming fairly fast to all sectors. The medical profession is taking it on board. When seniors realize how effective being able to code is, they will see coding abilities as an advantage. Like all transitions in life, the rest will play catch up. The question is, do you want to?

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