Disgraced Pharma Bro turned crypto shill Martin Shkreli is pivoting to a new venture: medical AI. Shkreli says his new medical chatbot called “Dr. Gupta” can answer a wide range of medical questions and could one day become a “replacement for all health care information.”
Gizmodo tested Dr. Gupta, and while it definitely didn’t seem like a revolutionary tech by any stretch of the imagination, it did look like an inevitable ethical and privacy nightmare.
Shkreli, who was released from prison last year after spending seven years behind bars for securities fraud, reveleaed his new AI tool on Twitter this week. During a Twitter Spaces event attended by Semafor, he claimed his new large language model was trained on data pulled from the web and online medical journals. The tech powering the AI is reportedly based on a modified version of OpenAI’s wildly popular ChatGPT. Dozens of other companies at this point, including Snap, have already released their own subject or industry-focused AI alternatives powered by ChatGPT. As for the name “Dr. Gupta,” that was reportedly picked because it includes the letters GPT. Yes, it’s dumb, but so are most of the other names for LLMs to this point.
“WebMD is basically dead in the water,” Shkreli said, according to Semafor. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
How Does Shkreli’s Dr. Gupta Work?
Dr. Gupta’s pitch is pretty simple: Ask it any medical information or advice and it will spit out an answer. Users can ask Gupta up to 5 free questions. After that, they will need to pay a $20 per month subscription to maintain access. The site uses a chatbot that will be familiar to anyone who’s played around with an LLM, but it also has a drop-down list of medical information where users can submit thier age, vitals, and, and lab test results in exchange for “more personalized and informative suggestions.”
Gizmodo tested out Dr. Gupta using the free trial. Like many people this time of year, this writer was suffering from a particularly nasty case of seasonal allergies. After explaining my symptoms and asking Dr. Gupta for advice, I was immediately presented with a pop-up reading, “Dr. Gupta IS NOT a real physician.” The alert went on to say the tool was intended to serve as an alternative to a search engine and was “NOT” intended for medical or clinical uses. Further down the alert said Dr. Gupta “may provide potentially unreliable responses.” All very reassuring.
After about 30 seconds, Gupta responded with a ChatGPT-styled response politely acknowledging my snotty suffering before recommending some basic over-the-counter antihistamines and nasal decongestants. Gupta went on to say it’s “essential” to clean my living space regularly, which admittedly hit pretty hard. I followed up by asking Gupta if it had any specific antihistamines recommendations and it said I should try Zyrtec or Claritin.
Switching topics, I then asked Gupta whether or not it was safe to eat chicken that had been abandoned in the fridge for four days. Gupta responded by saying it’s generally safe to eat chicken that’s been in the fridge for up to four days but advised me to check for any nasty smell, mold or sliminess. In general, Gupta worked as intended in my extremely limited tests but really didn’t seem much different at all from ChatGPT. In the first case of allergies. It took longer to find those basic answers than it would have to search the same question on WebMD.
Pharma Bro jumps from one tech trend to another
It was only a matter of time before someone tried to modify ChatGPT for medical results. It’s a little ironic to say the least, though, that the person leading that charge is a disgraced pharmaceutical huckster once dubbed “the most hated man in America.” Shkreli earned that vaunted moniker after his pharmaceutical company at the time acquired the rights to a Parkinson’s treatment drug called Daraprim and quickly jacked up its price by more than 5,000% from $13.50 per dose to $750 for a pill. Shkreli pissed people off even more by spending $2 million to acquire a single copy 2015 Wu-Tang Clan record.
Shkreli became the poster child for what many perceived as an unchecked, profiteering pharmaceutical industry, however, his 2017 arrest and subsequent seven-year prison actually came from unrelated securities fraud charges. Last year, a federal judge finally determined Shkreli had in fact violated antitrust rules when he attempted to maintain a monopoly over Daraprim. Shkreli was forced to pay $64.6 million and was barred from life from the drug industry.
Since then Shkreli tried to briefly reinvent himself, like many do, as a Crypto Bro by starting Druglike, a company that claims to want to democratize the costs of drug discovery through decentralized computing. Less than a year out of jail, however, Shkreli is already back in regulators’ crosshairs with the FTC recently asking a federal judge to hold the Pharma Bro in contempt of court for failing to give them the info they needed to determine if he was indeed breaking back into the medical industry. Old habits, it seems, are hard to break.
Mr. Gupta could could face regulatory scrutiny
To put it mildly, there are a lot of potential problems with the Pharma Bro’s new AI adventure. For starters, its difficult to see how launching an AI tool giving medical advice and recommending certain drugs wouldn’t violate Shkreli’s drug industry ban. Then there’s the issue of accuracy. Disclaimer or not, Dr. Gupta could quickly run into some real problems recommending its users false or harmful informaiton. Large language models, including ChatGPT, are well known to “hallucinate” or basically make up answers to questions that could have no real basis in fact. That’s annoying when you ask it to create a cocktail, but its potentially life threatening if you ask it to tell you about a medical dose. Concerns over Gupta’s medical accuracy didn’t seem to bother Shkreli though.
“How do you prevent a physician from doing the same?” he said on Twitter.
Then there’s the issue of all that sensitive medical data Dr. Gupta is potentially gobbling up every time a user submits a query. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other regulatory protections place stricter regulations on how companies can use and share health data. Those restrictions could look like land mines Gupta will have to constantly struggle to dance around. Shkreli summed up his thinking on those concerns in a reply to a user on Twitter.
“Read the terms”, Shkreli said. “If you don’t want to use it, do not use it!”