Google Proved That AI Can Reshape Medicine

David Gershgorn | Quartz | November 30, 2016

A doctor’s work isn’t all done in examination rooms. Many specialists spend lots of time alone with the lights out, examining photographs that reveal their patients’ internal workings. That might soon change. A paper by Google published in the Journal of the American Medical Association details an algorithm that can detect when someone has developed blindness as a result of diabetes, trained and tested by board-certified ophthalmologists. It shows algorithms can, at least in the case of this particular affliction, make a diagnosis with an accuracy on-par with medical professionals.

A key difference between this research and previous papers on medical imaging by large tech companies is its publication and defense by a respected medical journal like JAMA. Concurrent with Google’s paper, JAMA also published an article translating the finding for medical professionals and urging the community that this is a good thing—algorithms can let doctors spend more time with patients, rather than reading scans.

It seems likely that these algorithms will reshape specific aspects of these specialties as more algorithms are developed to address a wider range of medical imaging tasks. Because these algorithms are by their nature standardized, repeatable, and scalable, they can be deployed to analyze a large number of images in hospitals around the world once an algorithm has been developed and validated, enabling clinicians to focus on other aspects of their practice. After writing a lengthy blog post on Nov. 27 detailing how machines can’t yet beat doctors, radiologist Luke Oakden-Rayner saw the Google research and was forced to concede his point...