As Boston Children’s launches clinical decision support challenge, a warning about AI hype

Boston Children’s Hospital held its second Innovation and Digital Health Accelerator Innovator’s Showcase yesterday, inviting more than 20 startups working with the hospital in some capacity to network and share their work with each other.

At the event, the company also kicked off its newest open innovation challenge, which focuses specifically on clinical decision support.

“The idea there is we’re sourcing ideas from frontline staff or researchers and others on the administrative side to find new ideas where we can use technology to improve clinical decisions, be it through machine learning, AI, image recognition, or even operational improvements,” IDHA Innovation Lead Matt Murphy said.

The hospital will accept applications through April 28, and one or two winners will get $50,000 in grant funding and other support from the hospital.

To get the wheels turning about ways that AI could help improve clinical decision support, Boston Children’s invited some doctors doing research in that area to speak to the assembled crowd.

Dr. Garry Steil showed off some results of a project to use artificial intelligence to help people with Type 1 diabetes predict their blood sugar spikes and take insulin accordingly. Steil’s system has already shown some previously unknown correlations between exercise, food, and sleep that could help people with diabetes stay on track.

The other…

AI is “still pretty dumb” and like a “2-year-old”

toddler, danger

Last month, Mayo Clinic’s CIO gave the strongest endorsement so far of artificial intelligence technology at the annual HIMSS conference in Orlando, Florida.

Cris Ross along with Tuffia Haddad, a breast cancer oncologist, at Rochester, Minnesota institution, portrayed the tangible benefits of using artificial intelligence, specifically IBM Watson Health’s AI engine.

But make no mistake.

Ross wasn’t donning rose-tinted glasses as he reviewed this emerging technology that’s set to transform myriad industries, including healthcare.

“Artificial intelligence is still pretty dumb,” Ross declared before adding, “And I don’t mean that in a really derogatory way.”

What Ross meant is the current limits of AI.

He described IBM Watson Health “as some of the best computer science on the planet” but noted that AI is heavily dependent on mammoth amounts of data. Here’s how Ross captures the limitations of AI, adding that his view of the technology may result in “fist fights”: (slightly edited)

The best artificial intelligence today is still driven entirely by so-called semantic models, which is understanding language and the relatioship of words to each other and how they build up. So the only way that these things can work is by giving them mountains of data to plow through to try and get to statistically meaningful connections, which then can be leveraged to gain some other understanding.

So, this is like a 2-year-old child just learning to speak and to walk and how they interact with the…

Why tech giants are claiming space in healthcare

From cloud platforms for medical data and hospital smart rooms to artificial intelligence and patient-engagement technologies, the giants of the digital world are threatening to disrupt healthcare.

Leading the pack is IBM and its centerpiece offering Watson Health. In just the last six months, the company has announced major initiatives into healthcare including a partnership with clinical consultation provider Best Doctors to add Watson’s cancer suite to employee benefits packages, a population health management alliance with Siemens Healthineers and an effort linking IBM’s PowerAI deep learning software toolkit with NVIDIA’s NVLink interconnect technology. The PowerAI is already being used improve diagnoses and care plans by sifting through patient data.

In October, Big Blue announced a $200 million investment in its Watson Internet of Things global headquarters in Munich, Germany. The money will support a series of IoT “collaboratories” aimed at bringing researchers, engineers, developers and entrepreneurs together to work on novel healthcare and other solutions.

Growing field of players

Apple has also more hinted at plans for a major thrust into healthcare, with high-profile hires and partnerships with large healthcare systems like Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and Scripts Translational Science Institute. The company also acquired personal health record startup Gliimpse, which hopes to advance interoperability by aggregating health data into a single digital patient record.

Meanwhile, Apple has a patent application for a wearable device that can measure electrocardiographic information across different body areas of provide doctors with actionable readings. A series of emails between Apple and the Food and Drug Administration also shed light on several regulated products Silicon Valley firm is developing.

Microsoft is also expanding its footprint in healthcare with its analytics capabilities. Since jumping into the wearables market in 2014, the company has teamed with Twist BioScience on the capabilities of DNA digital data storage, collaborated with the medical community on numerous health research projects and joined forces with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center to create innovative care delivery products. And just this week, Cigna announced it has leveraged Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to for interactive game-based health screenings.

And last month, Samsung waded into the digital health space via a partnership with American Well that leverages the Korean tech firm’s consumer electronics with American Well’s Exchange platform to enable providers and payers to connect and share telehealth services online. The company is also launching an IoT senior care solution called Breezie.

Leveraging technologies

Driving these and other large, multinational electronics companies is demand for data-driven information and the shift to value-based models of medicine and payment.

“Healthcare has been labeled as ‘ripe for disruption’ for years, but the combination of government mandates and regulations, technological advancements and financial incentives of the last decade has seemed to finally get the needle moving,” Derek Spearing, senior manager at Top Tier Consulting tells Healthcare Dive. Add that to the wave of health IT startups in recent years, and “healthcare is cool again,” he adds.

One of the things…

Your Valentine, the AI avatar

Sensly image

In popular culture, artificial intelligence is often portrayed as confident, street-smart and more than a little malevolent – think Ultron, HAL and Skynet. But what if AI’s actual inclinations are kind, helpful and empathetic? What if we can be friends?

That may be one hopeful byproduct of Molly, a virtual medical assistant being developed by San Francisco startup, Sensely, which on Tuesday announced $8 million in series B financing. Founded in 2013, Sensly is leveraging artificial intelligence and machine learning to help patients get better care. For people with chronic conditions, better health starts with compliance.

“Around 5 percent of the population is responsible for about 50 percent of (healthcare) costs, said Sensely found and CEO Adam Odessky in a phone interview. “We focused on the people who are frequent flyers, who are in and out of the hospital and have a chronic disease, whether that’s heart failure, COPD or diabetes.”

Molly is the cell phone app that really cares. Customized with digitized discharge instructions, she queries patients about how they are feeling and encourages them to comply with their regimen. Let’s take your blood pressure. Let’s get your weight. In addition, Molly collects data from a wide range of Bluetooth-enabled diagnostic devices.

“Based on that five-minute conversation, we can calculate the risk of that patient being…

AI-Powered Breath Detector Diagnoses 17 Different Diseases


Our breath contains a slew of information about our health in the form of molecules whose existence and concentration can serve as biomarkers for disease. Typically breath sensors focus on a single biomarker and therefore are limited in their scope and screening ability. A worldwide scientific collaboration headed by a team from Technion−Israel Institute of Technology has developed a breath sensor capable of detecting many different molecules and correlated these biomarkers to 17 different diseases.


Can magnesium protect against heart disease and diabetes?

The results suggested a 10% lower risk of heart disease, 12% lower risk of stroke and a 26% lower risk of T2DM for those taking the highest magnesium doses compared to those taking the lowest. ©iStock/vchal
The results suggested a 10% lower risk of heart disease, 12% lower risk of stroke and a 26% lower risk of T2DM for those taking the highest magnesium doses compared to those taking the lowest. ©iStock/vchal

A magnesium-rich diet could help reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2DM), heart disease and stroke, according to results from a meta-analysis.

The results suggested a 10% lower risk of heart disease, 12% lower risk of stroke and a 26% lower risk of T2DM for those taking the highest magnesium doses compared to those taking the lowest.

They also found an extra 100 milligrams (mg) of magnesium per day could reduce stroke risk by 7% and T2DM by 19%. These conclusions were based on data from over one million people across nine countries.

Magnesium plays an essential role in glucose metabolism, protein production and DNA synthesis. It can be found in nuts, beans, cocoa, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.

In July last year the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) set…

BAYER Canada and DIAGNOS join efforts against Diabetes

BROSSARD, QUEBEC–(Marketwired – Dec 6, 2016) – DIAGNOS Inc. (“DIAGNOS” or “the Corporation”) (TSX VENTURE:ADK), a leader in applying Artificial Intelligence in healthcare technical services including screening, software and algorithm development, data analysis, and image processing, announces today a pilot project contract for diabetic macular edema and diabetic retinopathy screening with BAYER Canada. Under the terms of the agreement, DIAGNOS will provide a fully turn-key screening service to benefit one thousand diabetic patients in the Toronto area. Screening will be offered to diabetics affiliated to their health entities to test the impact of including preventive screening programs.

According to the International Diabetes Federation, diabetic retinopathy and macular edema are the most common diabetic eye diseases and the leading cause of blindness around the world. It is a treatable disease that, as with most diseases, has a higher treatment success rate in its earlier stages. However, there are generally no symptoms until the disease has progressed to more severe…

Googles AI detects diabetic retinopathy at similar rate to doctors

Google researchers have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) that can detect diabetic retinopathy in patients with diabetes.

The AI detects diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness among adults, by examining retinal photos.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that the AI detected retinopathy at roughly the same rate as human ophthalmologists.

Google now hopes that this technology could be used to screen more people than doctors are able to, particularly in countries where screening is limited.

Deep learning

Google’s AI uses deep learning to detect diabetic retinopathy, which involves the identification of faces, animals, and objects in pictures uploaded to Google’s online services.

The concept of using the AI to identify retinopathy began when a Google researcher noticed Indian doctors were struggling with the amount of screening required.

The Google Brain team, a team inside Google that provides AI software, requested over four dozen doctors in India and the US to identify conditions in photos, such as diabetic retinopathy, and then fed around 128,000 of these images into Google’s neural network.

The system consistently identified diabetic retinopathy more than the doctors, avoiding both false positives and false negatives more than 90 per cent of the time – the National Institute of Health recommend a standard of at least 80 per cent accuracy in diabetic retinopathy screenings.

AI won’t replace doctors

Lily Peng, a physician and biomedical engineer at Google, insists the idea behind this AI is not to replace doctors, rather to help them.

Her team are currently conducting additional trials to train Google’s diagnostic AI, with preliminary results showing the system continues to perform as well as trained doctors.

The findings have been met positive feedback by scientists. David McColloch, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Washington who specialises in diabetes, said: “This is a well validated technology that can bring screening services to remote locations where diabetic retinal eye screening is less available.”


Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 is commonly known as Type 2 Diabetes
Diabetes Mellitus Type 2 is commonly known as Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder that results in hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) due to the body:

  • Being ineffective at using the insulin it has produced; also known as insulin resistance and/or
  • Being unable to produce enough insulin

Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body being unable to metabolise glucose (a simple sugar). This leads to high levels of blood glucose which over time may damage the organs of the body.

From this, it can be understood that for someone with diabetes something that is food for ordinary people can become a sort of metabolic poison. This is why people with diabetes are advised to avoid sources of dietary sugar.

The good news is for very many people with type 2 diabetes this is all they have to do to stay well. If you can keep your blood sugar lower by avoiding dietary sugar it’s likely you will never need long-term medication.

Type 2 diabetes was formerly known as non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes due to its occurrence mainly in people over 40. However, type 2 diabetes is now becoming more common in young adults, teens and children and accounts for roughly 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide.

Type 2 diabetes statistics

According to the International Diabetes Federation (IDF), more than 371 million people across the globe have diabetes and this figure is predicted to rise to over 550 million by 2030.

Of the total global diabetes rate, 90% are living with type 2 diabetes but it is estimated that up to half of these people are unaware of their condition (undiagnosed diabetes).

In the UK, more than 2.7 million people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes whilst a further 750,000 people are believed to have the symptoms but are yet to be diagnosed with the disease.

How serious is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious medical condition that often requires the use of anti-diabetic medication, or insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. However the development of type 2 diabetes and its side effects (complications) can be prevented if detected and treated at an early stage.

Following pre-diabetes or metabolic disorder, type 2 diabetes can potentially be avoided through diet and exercise.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the…

Google’s AI Reads Retinas to Prevent Blindness in Diabetics

Getty Images

Google’s artificial intelligence can play the ancient game of Go better than any human. It can identify faces, recognize spoken words, and pull answers to your questions from the web. But the promise is that this same kind of technology will soon handle far more serious work than playing games and feeding smartphone apps. One day, it could help care for the human body.

Demonstrating this promise, Google researchers have worked with doctors to develop an AI that can automatically identify diabetic retinopathy, a leading cause blindness among adults. Using deep learning—the same breed of AI that identifies faces, animals, and objects in pictures uploaded to Google’s online services—the system detects the condition by examining retinal photos. In a recent study, it succeeded at about the same rate as human opthamologists, according to a paper published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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“We were able to take something core to Google—classifying cats and dogs and faces—and apply it to another sort of problem,” says Lily Peng, the physician and biomedical engineer who oversees the project at Google.

But the idea behind this AI isn’t to replace doctors. Blindness is often preventable if diabetic retinopathy is caught early. The hope is that the technology can screen far more people for the condition than doctors could on their own, particularly in countries where healthcare is limited, says Peng. The project began, she says, when a Google researcher realized that doctors in his native India were struggling to screen all the locals that needed to be screened.

In many places, doctors are already using photos to diagnose the condition without seeing patients in person. “This is a well validated technology that can bring screening services to remote locations where diabetic retinal eye screening is less available,” says David McColloch, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of…

Google DeepMind, NHS announce new agreement to address data sharing concerns

DeepMind, Google’s UK-based AI subsidiary, has signed a new agreement with the NHS after the pair’s February deal was scrutinized over the amount and type of patient data Google would have access to. An investigative report by the New Scientist revealed that Google would have access to a huge trove of patient data without the patients’ express consent, a potential violation of NHS information governance principles. With the new announcement, DeepMind is taking care to avoid a repeat of that situation with a host of new data protections.

The new agreement is a five-year partnership with the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. It will be a deployment of DeepMind’s Streams app, which helps doctors get information about their acute kidney failure patients – including blood tests– faster, which will enable faster diagnostics in situations where time is of the essence. Once the app gets through the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (similar to the United States’ FDA), DeepMind plans to roll it out to NHS hospitals in early 2017. Then, they’ll start to expand the app beyond just acute kidney failure.

“Over the course of the next five years, we’re going to expand Streams to cover other illness where early intervention is key and technology can ensure this happens,” Mustafa Suleyman, head of…

Cogito raises $15M for AI software to improve customer service phone interactions

Boston-based Cogito, a behavioral analytics company that spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has raised $15 million in Series B funding in a round led by OpenView. Existing investors Romulus Capital and Salesforce Ventures also contributed to the round, and OpenView Founder and Managing Partner Scott Maxwell joined Cogito’s board of directors.

The funding will be used to expand Cogito’s customer base and further develop the company’s deep learning and other technological capabilities, which analyze voice and speech to detect emotions. In February, the company partnered with Massachusetts General Hospital on a National Institute of Mental Health-funded project to address depression and bipolar disorder. Researchers used Cogito’s app, Companion, to track mood and adjust treatment or potentially prevent relapses.

While the company started off by working with healthcare organizations to understand and manage care for patients, it has been increasingly focused on working with call centers of healthcare organizations, insurers and financial companies to guide phone professionals…

Cognitive ushers us from “carbon intelligence” to AI “silicon intelligence”


When the term “artificial intelligence” – better known as “AI” – was initially coined, it was thought that humans (carbon based life forms) had “real” intelligence while the best a machine’s intelligence (to the extent they had any) could get was “artificial”. As I work with companies that are leading major machine learning, algorithms, and AI initiatives I’m convinced that we’re ushering in a new golden age of AI but one that might need some terminology refinements. IBM, one of the leaders in AI’s new golden age, talks about how cognitive computing will take us to the promised land where machines aren’t just augmenting our calculation skills but really recognize patterns without being taught by humans, sift through data without us teaching them, digitize our experiences without our involvement, strike up conversations, drive our cars, and make decisions just like humans do.
With the rapid progress that we’ve been making, much of which I’ll get to see first-hand when I attend the next week, I’ve been wondering whether we should move away from the term artificial intelligence to just silicon intelligence. We’re carbon-based so our intelligence could be called carbon Intelligence (CI) not “real intelligence”. Once a machine is intelligent and can do things…