Google Bests Doctors in Eye Disease Treatment

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In another sign that artificial intelligence can outthink humans, Google announced it was able to more quickly detect eye disease problems than medical professionals. Google said this is a leap forward in the treatment of as many as 50 conditions.

The results are from research firm DeepMind, which Google bought in 2014, and it is now a division of Google parent Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL). In a blog post titled “A major milestone for the treatment of eye disease,” Mustafa Suleyman, co-founder and head of Applied AI, wrote about his company’s ability to rapidly diagnose 50 “sight-threatening” eye conditions:

The time it takes to analyse these scans, combined with the sheer number of scans that healthcare professionals have to go through (over 1,000 a day at Moorfields alone), can lead to lengthy delays between scan and treatment – even when someone needs urgent care. If they develop a sudden problem, such as a bleed at the back of the eye, these delays could even cost patients their sight.

The system we have developed seeks to address this challenge. Not only can it automatically detect the features of eye diseases in seconds, but it can also prioritise patients most in need of urgent care by recommending whether they should be referred for treatment. This instant triaging process should drastically cut down the time elapsed between the scan and treatment, helping sufferers of diabetic eye disease and age-related macular degeneration avoid sight loss.

The research was done in a partnership with Moorfields Eye Hospital, and the results were published in the journal Nature Medicine. Deep Mind scientists described this as a major advance in medical science. If the claims are accurate, this is true.

The research does not suggest AI replace humans, at least for now. Suleyman wrote:

This functionality is critically important, since eyecare professionals are always going to play a key role in deciding the type of care and treatment a patient receives. Enabling them to scrutinise the technology’s recommendations is key to making the system usable in practice.

Will eye care professionals actually keep their role indefinitely? DeepMind experts did not say.