Babylon Health, whose chatbot app is already disrupting the U.K.’s National Health Service, is aiming for perhaps a greater revolution: supercharging medical diagnoses with an algorithm that analyzes vast, unconnected databases for causes and effects.
The technique distinguishes between cause and effect and simple correlation in data. Turning up so-called causal links may help pinpoint the causes of illnesses more accurately and quickly, MIT Technology Review reported. Being able to point to underlying cause and effect also should boost users’ confidence in the company’s chatbot, according to Babylon’s Ciarán Lee, who co-developed the algorithm with colleague Anish Dhir.
The researchers started from scratch, Lee said: “When we looked it turned out that no one had really solved this problem.”
Babylon’s chatbot is just one way that artificial intelligence is shaking up the healthcare industry. AI-powered companions from Replika and Woebot are designed to monitor and improve users’ mental health, while Exscientia and Sumitomo Dainippon Pharma are bringing the first drug developed using AI to clinical trials.
Babylon Health, founded by former investment banker Ali Parsa in 2013, raised $550 million in Series C cash last year to expand its service to the U.S. and Asia. The company’s chatbot enables users to input symptoms, get medical information and schedule appointments with the NHS. The idea is to cut down on medical visits that are unnecessary.
The chatbot has come in for some flak after reports of misdiagnoses, including one where the service failed to suggest a 66-year-old woman’s breast lump could be cancer in a hypothetical case. The company was criticized by the Lancet for stating its service outperformed the average human doctor on a medical exam. The evaluation study Babylon Health used to back up the claims was flawed, the Lancet said.
Even so, Babylon Health continues to grow. Last month, the company and the U.K. city of Wolverhampton entered a 10-year partnership to provide a digital health system for the city’s 300,000 area residents. Babylon Health said it has more than 3.6 million users worldwide and has completed over 1.2 million consultations.
- The potential of AI to revolutionize a wide range of industries led investors to pour record amounts of cash into startups leveraging the technology. Last year, 1,356 AI-related startups in the U.S. raised $18.5 billion, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
- The research by Babylon Health’s Dhir and Lee has been peer-reviewed and is to be presented at the Association for Advancement of Artificial Intelligence conference in New York this week, MIT Technology Review said.