According to the Records of the Grand Historian or what popularly known as Shiji in Chinese, Bin Que was probably the first documented Chinese physician in history.

With an exceptional talent in clairvoyance, Bin invented the four diagnostic methods: looking (at the state of the patient), listening (to the patient’s complains), questioning (the patient) and feeling the patient’s pulse, to preliminarily access one’s health condition.

2000 years later, this set of rules still rests in the heart of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Interestingly, the thought of TCM today, may lead many to think only of acupuncture and ginseng. The Chinese brought TCM to the west during the gold rush years in 1850s, despite so, it remains as a form of alternative treatments.

When given a choice, most will still show a strong preference towards western medicine, including Chinese themselves. This has silently created a vicious cycle. Since the demand for TCM is not strong, less new blood is infused into the industry, along with the slow treatment process which some may regard it as inefficient, making TCM fashionable remains an arduous task.

Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Capital Biotech had set up the National TCM intelligent Equipment Research Institute this May, to venture into AI motivated TCM diagnosis, physiotherapy, research and skill transfer, hoping to paint the industry with a fresh look.

The University’s chancellor Shuguang Yu told Xinhua, AI and TCM are actually comparable in many ways. AI is powered by its ability to accumulate and process large amount of data at once and this is the same as the so-called “experience” which senior TCM physicians have. It’s the exact reason why it’s hard to train a good TCM physician, because experiences cannot be garnered in a short time.

What is the ideal combination of Traditional Chinese Medicine and AI?

CEO of Capital Biotech and academician of Chinese academy of sciences, Jing Cheng believes the ideal collaboration between AI and TCM lies in near future, when we find smart mirror in our bathroom. Each morning as we wash our face, the mirror will automatically analyze our health and “qi” or flow of energy by accessing the colour of our skin, eye, and tongue.

In fact, the first AI based TCM clinic had set its foot in Wuzhen, Zhejiang province a year ago, with physicians entering a patient’s condition to derive at diagnosis and treatments. The system will also facilitate dispensing of medication; keeping it within 10 minutes.

At a glance, all these promised a favorable start but as the effort came after the State Council’s release of the new generation of AI development plan last July, some researchers are worried that such top-down approach may not benefit the sector in long term and at the end of the day, some of these great potential may just be a fond dream.


Author Bio

Hazel Tang A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.