AI for health: Chan Zuckerberg Initiative buys Meta startup to speed progress

By 2020, medical data is expected to double every 73 days. With the rapidly growing amount of health data being produced, it is no surprise that medical knowledge is being drowned in the sea of scientific data.

To make use of the incredible amounts of medical data, health professionals are increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) to help find patterns in the deluge of data to provide better diagnostics and treatment. And now, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative may speed progress in that area.

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The philanthropic arm of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan has just purchased a Canadian healthcare startup, Meta, which uses AI to find, review and compile scientific papers. Meta is the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s first outright acquisition and will be made free to use for all researchers.

“Meta’s tools can dramatically accelerate scientific progress and move us closer to our goal: to support science and technology that will make it possible to cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century,” said Chan Zuckerberg in a statement. “Meta will help scientists learn from others’ discoveries in real time, find key papers that may have gone unnoticed, or even predict where their field is headed.”

Sam Molyneux, the co-founder of Meta, stated in a Facebook blog post that “Chan Zuckerberg Meta is AI in the service of the scientific ecosystem.”

Facebook is not the only large tech company investing in this type of AI health technology, of course. Google’s Deepmind Health, for instance, uses machine learning to mine medical data to find ways to improve how illnesses are diagnosed and treated. And IBM Watson Health continues to use its cutting-edge AI technology to help medical professionals gain insight from previously untapped, unstructured data.

AI at the service of the SDGs

Advances in medicine have often corresponded with advances in technology, however, it is now information and communication technologies (ICTs) coupled with AI that have the power to bring revolutionary changes to the field of medicine. They can help us to achieve the global health indicators as outlined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

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Whether it is remote visits performed online and supported by doctor chat bots, new wearable technologies that communicate to a patient when it is time for their daily dose of medicine, or AI systems that assist doctors by comparing known treatments to their likelihood of success, machine learning and ICTs are poised to offer new ways of researching, diagnosing and treating a variety of illnesses.

As world leaders have agreed to ambitious health targets in line with Sustainable Development Goal 3, to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages, there is an ever pressing need to deliver universal health services efficiently and with a high standard of care. Indeed, mobile health applications and the roll-out of AI systems are set to help achieve these targets.

As the UN’s leading agencies for ICTs and health, respectively, ITU and the World Health Organization launched Be He@lthy Be Mobile app a few years ago to use mobile phones to provide critical information and to survey global epidemics for the world’s most common and deadly Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and stroke.

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Taken one step further, several healthcare companies, including UK-based Babylon, now offer mobile doctor visits supported by AI systems to provide the best advice to patients online or through their mobile apps.

The next great challenge for AI and health

As reported by the Economist, the healthcare industry is leading the way in AI applications. However, the greatest challenge for AI and health may be the skeptical public attitudes that currently persist.

Last year, a survey commissioned by the British Science Association found that 36% of respondents thought AI presented a “threat to the long term survival of humanity”, and 53% would not trust a robot to perform surgery. Even renowned scientist Steven Hawking has warned about the future of AI when he stated in a BBC interview that full AI could end the human race.

Critical voices aside, AI may prove to protect humans from more than just diseases, but from fatal automobile accidents and natural disasters. As long as our fears do not stop us from debating and discussing the future potential of AI, the science fiction of a world without diseases could one day become a science fact.

 

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