Google has always seen itself as more than a search engine or advertising company. Now it’s turning its focus to healthcare, betting that its AI prowess can create a powerful new paradigm for the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. In short, Google seems to be going after the healthcare space from every possible angle.
Health data is getting digitized and structured, from a new electronic record standard to imaging to DNA sequencing. Google is both helping speed up this process by creating new means of processing health data and betting that it can use AI to make sense of the data quickly and potentially more accurately than current methods.
According to industry watchers, Google is investing eight times more in AI and Machine Learning (ML) than its competitors. The tech giant is also aggressively acquiring AI start-ups and pushing individual research on AI/ML on an unprecedented scale.
Verily is where Alphabet is doing the bulk of its healthcare work. Verily, run by Andrew Conrad, founder of National Genetics Institute, is focused on partnering with existing healthcare institutions to find areas to apply AI, especially via its Study Watch, a wearable device that captures biometric data.
Deepmind, run by Demis Hassabis is looking at using Machine Learning to create next-generation diagnostic tools. The aim of the company Demis says is to ‘get patients from test to treatment faster’.
Calico is run by ex-Genentech CEO Arthur Levinson and is focussed on using AI to tackle age-related health issues.
The underlying idea behind most projects being undertaken by these companies is to analyse vast data sets, find anomalies and combine machine learning with data analysis to detect diseases faster and more accurately.
But, Google (more accurately, Alphabet) doesn’t stop there. Verily has filed a number of patents for corrective eyewear that uses AI to remedy visual ailments. Google’s research recently showed that its algorithms were just as good as ophthalmologists when it came to detecting eye diseases.
Google also has a number of wearable devices suited for heart patients in the pipeline. Study Watch launched by Verily in 2017 was one such device, packed with an electrocardiogram (ECG), it could provide faster and more consistent data on the patient’s heart function.
In order to increase interoperability among hospitals, physicians, and other relevant parties, the industry is slowly shifting to a new technology known as FHIR (Faster Healthcare Interoperability Resources). FHIR creates standards for different data elements so that developers can build application programming interfaces (APIs) that can be used to access datasets from different systems.
Google is betting that accessing, organizing, and interpreting this data is going to be the future of healthcare. The company acquired API management company Apigee for $625 million in 2016. One part of Apigee’s business is dedicated to building healthcare APIs using FHIR.
Google is working on a large number of initiatives focused on different facets of healthcare across so many areas of the company that the chances of failure are high, as is the potential for success.