Hichem Larbi

Gustave Roussy

“As a biostatistician, my work involves scanning physical slides of tissue samples and then working with the data from these slides. The role combines two quite different elements—the manual and the digital. One part is almost a physical craft and the other is pure data and mathematics. I love that combination. [...]

“I find a profound beauty in the translation of biology into data, and in the interpretation of that data. When you first take a slide out of the rack there is no beauty there—it’s just a small piece of plastic. But when you scan the sample and zoom in to the details, it’s like arriving in an unknown land or gazing into a telescope of outer space. What was previously a small stain on a slide has become one of the most complex works of art. What colors!

“There’s beauty in the data science aspect of my role, too—in taking something so incredibly complex and making it explicable. The first result after scanning is incomprehensible because there are so many variables, so much data, but making sense of it feels like an art form, in many ways.

“I’m deeply interested in the application of AI to healthcare, and that’s the area I see my future career unfolding. I always knew that I wanted to bring my passion for data into the service of humankind, and I’m convinced that some of the greatest breakthroughs of the next few years will come from this crossover. [..]

“We must be careful that we don’t become too dependent on these technologies though, and bear in mind that AI is always there to assist and not replace. That’s a real risk—perhaps even probability—unless we keep this awareness at all times. This is partly in a political sense, at a policy level, but there’s also individual responsibility. A human doctor should always have a critical eye on the results provided by an AI.

“That’s how I’d sum up my personal perspective on AI: that it has so much potential we have no choice but to work with it, but that we need to do so in a way that preserves human skill. I’m also a passionate believer that the advantages of AI should benefit everyone, not just be reserved for those working in certain fields or living in particular places. But if you consider some of the major challenges we face today, such as the phenomenon of ‘medical deserts’ in some parts of the world—where little or no care is available—then extending some form of access to experts through AI is too great an opportunity to ignore.”

As told to Florent Tribalat. This conversation has been translated from French.

About Humanity

Humanity offers a rare glimpse into the fields of precision medicine and artificial intelligence.

Going inside some of the world’s most renowned institutions — from Gustave Roussy to Erlangen, University of Oxford to Mount Sinai — we profile the people driving innovation in science, medicine and technology.

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