DeepMind, the Artificial Intelligence unit from Google, set up a partnership with a UK eye hospital to help patients acknowledge the early signs of sight loss.
The programmers want to use patient data from the UK hospital to teach computers how to diagnose eye problems.
The focus of the project is on age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. The main idea behind the initiative is to detect the dysfunction as early as possible, in order to save the patient’s sight.
The medical diagnosis involves an examination of the eye’s interior. Doctors use an ophthalmoscope, take a digital fundus scan, or perform an optical coherence tomography.
A hospital ophthalmologist asked DeepMind to help them process faster the scan analysis. A faster processing would mean more time for patients.
“These scans are highly complex and take a long time for eye health professionals to analyze, which can have an impact on how quickly they can meet patients to discuss diagnosis and treatment. And to date, traditional computer analysis tools have been unable to explore them fully,” explained the DeepMind team.
The project will comprise the analysis of almost a million digital fundus and optical coherence scans. In addition to medical records, DeepMind will register anonymous information on clinical diagnoses, data on treatments, scanner models and the age of the participants.
All data will be anonymized, and the patients’ identities will be protected. However, people are afraid that Google could use the information it already collected through its social media and email services to identify patients.
To prevent this type of privacy issue, Google signed an agreement with the hospital that ensures no connection will be made between the databases used in the project and another dataset.
Google’s first health project created an enormous public debate on the protection of patients’ privacy. In February this year, the public learned that the company obtained access to a vast amount of data, including historical information.
The controversy ended after prolonged discussions with the National Health Service, and Google had to comply with the rules imposed by the UK authorities when handling personal information.
In order to be as transparent as possible, DeepMind published a detailed description of the project and promised to submit all its research reports to peer reviewed journals which could analyze the results and make observations on the methods.
The Artificial Intelligence systems involve learning techniques that would enhance the computer’s capacity to set patterns in an immense quantity of data.
IBM researchers have a heath project of their own, trying to help doctors with a cancer diagnosis.
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