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Google Wants to Use Artificial Intelligence to Help Prevent Blindness

July 5, 2016, 7:44 PM UTC
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SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 15: Demis Hassabis, co-founder of Google's artificial intelligence (AI) startup DeepMind. speaks during a press conference after finishing the final match of the Google DeepMind Challenge Match against Google's artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, on March 15, 2016 in Seoul, South Korea. Lee Se-dol is playing a five-match series against a computer program developed by a Google, AlphaGo. (Photo by Jeon Heon-Kyun-Pool/Getty Images)
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Google (GOOGL) is teaming up with the U.K.’s government health care system to see whether its artificial intelligence tech can help detect and prevent eye diseases and blindness. The tech giant announced the collaboration between subsidiary DeepMind (acquired in 2014) and the National Health Service (NHS) in a blog post on Tuesday.

DeepMind uses various algorithms to help machines learn from the data they analyze. Google will use DeepMind to pore over 1 million anonymous eye scans collected by the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust over the years with the goal of creating a faster, more efficient method for analyzing the data and coming to an earlier diagnosis.

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This could be critical for preventing eye diseases for diabetes or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) patients from progressing to the point of no return.

Currently, the complex eye scans taken for these conditions “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,” explained DeepMind, adding that, “to date, traditional computer analysis tools have been unable to explore [the scans] fully.”


While this projected is limited to one NHS hospital in the U.K., it has far-reaching global health implications. More than 100 million people worldwide suffer from AMD or diabetes-related vision loss. “With sight loss predicted to double by the year 2050, it is vital we explore the use of cutting-edge technology to prevent eye disease,” professor Sir Peng Tee Khaw, one of the leading directors for eye disease biomedical research at Moorfields, said in a statement.

Google and its umbrella corporation, Alphabet, have been pouring significant resources into health care, particularly digital health technologies. Alphabet’s life sciences arm, Verily, has already been working on next-gen diagnostics and disease monitoring technology including a smart contact lens that can detect blood sugar levels.