When you hear the words “AI and Health,” you may just think you’re watching an episode of something on SciFi, or watching humankind’s demise in real-time in “Black Mirror.” Well, Google announced something that is no TV show and is in fact designed to help in the prediction of heart disease.
We’ve come a long way from Nasa’s discovery of memory foam which gave us memory foam mattresses; Google announced in February that they had discovered a way to scan a patient’s retinas to show if they are at risk of heart disease, or even future heart attack or stroke. Scientists from the company made their announcement in a study released February 19 in Nature Biomedical Engineering. They worked with over 280,000 patients from both UK Biobank and EyePACS, two companies aimed at minimizing the risk of diseases.
The company said they were able to achieve this level of diagnosis through a process called deep learning. Deep learning is a type of algorithm, designed to gather and learn from large amounts of data in a short period of time. This then allows the AI to be more able to understand what it might be seeing in a retinal scan, thus rendering a more accurate and efficient diagnosis.
Google’s developments in artificial intelligence are incredible, in that they are taking something that once required needles and blood work, and turned it into a simple, non-invasive scan.
A question you may be asking yourself right about now is, “What is it about the retinas that can predict these issues?” A wonderful question that is indeed.
Inside the retina, and shown on the scans, are blood vessels that are analyzed to predict a range of cardiovascular risk factors. Blood pressure, age, gender, if the person is a smoker and if they’ve had a heart attack, are all things that can be shown by simply looking at the person’s eye.
While Google stresses that more research should and will continue to be done, the scans have proven nearly as accurate as other means of finding cardiovascular issues.
While notions of artificial intelligence have existed since the mid-1900s with Alan Turing’s, Turing Test, it did not become something regularly implemented until the 1990s, when it was used to simulate an opponent in games such as chess or checkers.
Even after that, the thought of a computer or technology being able to have thought processes as advanced as humans was something that still wasn’t seriously considered until about the last seven or eight years.
One notable step forward in the uses and capability of AI, was the appearance of IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, on Jeopardy. Competing against two of the most successful Jeopardy champions in history, Watson ran away with the game, more than tripling the other contestants’ score, winning $77,147 to $24,000 and $21,600. Since then, IBM has remained a leader in the field of artificial intelligence, implementing it in all of science, engineering, and tech.
It’s an obvious statement to make, but there’s no doubt that this Google’s medical-centric use of AI is the continuation of a trend happening in healthcare. This is not to say that robots and computers will overtake the need for doctors anytime in the near future, but they will certainly be playing a bigger role.
Even now, bionic robots are able to assist in certain kinds of surgeries, and in certain cases, are able to operate more delicately than human hands are. Like many newer things, the thought of a person putting their lives in the hands of a machine is naturally going to draw some concern.
Artificial intelligence isn’t all self-driving cars and unexpected health screenings. While we all aren’t saving humankind through smartwatches and pupils like Apple and Google, everyday people can reap the benefits of AI – even in something as simple as website design or home systems.
On a personal level, home assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Nest make programming everything from grocery purchases to regulating your thermometer a breeze. What’s more? Business-wise, digital design elements such as chatbots and AI website designers improve UX, personalize online experiences and can ultimately result in a booming bottom line.
But all of these systems of artificial intelligence have the same thing in common – they are several steps ahead of us mere mortals, anticipating our needs and working overtime to achieve them, whether it’s saving a life or catering a brand experience to a particular user.
No matter how smart or how much learning a machine is able to do, it’s hard to argue that it will ever be able to have the level of knowledge or understand as humans. Beyond that, machines are much more fickle than humans when it comes to the potential for bugs or glitches and things that could go wrong during a surgical procedure on the operator’s end.
As intimidating as it might seem, history has shown us that there will likely be little stopping the forward progress in this field.