An AI Physician On Every Smartphone? An Xprize Challenge

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Hello...Doctor?

One of the exciting ideas being tossed around recently over at the Xprize Foundation is the creation of an Artificial Intelligence physician that you could access from your smartphone.  Have a strange rash on your arm and chest?  Take a photo of the rash with your phone and allow the AI physician to compute whether your rash matches smallpox or poison ivy from it’s image database.  Want advice on whether your chest pain is heartburn or a heart attack?  Ask the AI!  The possibilities are enormous.  Especially for the billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours walk or drive from the nearest doctor, the AI physician would represent a revolution in health care.  Singularity Hub has exclusive footage of an Xprize promotional video that shows the vision for an AI physician.  Check it out below:

The Xprize foundation hopes to propel the world as quickly as possible towards the creation of an AI physician by hosting a multimillion dollar competition for the first team that can create an AI that meets certain criteria.  Sadly, the Xprize has yet to get the competition up and running.

Yet with or without the help of the Xprize, technology is advancing in ways that are making it ever more possible to develop a useful AI physician.  Modern smartphones already have ample broadband speed, processing power, and access to the world’s information at their disposal.  Combine this with recent advances in narrow AI, such as voice recognition and image comparison capability, and clearly the pieces are already in place.

Even though a formal AI physician has not yet seen widespread success, smartphones have nevertheless made several strides in this direction.  AirStrip Technologies is developing a suite of hardware/software solutions that allow physicians and nurses to monitor important vital signs from their smartphone.  Several hardware attachments, such as a microscope, have been created to transform your smartphone into a medical device.

Considering all of the individual applications and hardware attachments that are out there,one might even argue that the AI physician is already here.  But this I think misses the point.  Hardware is a different matter, but at least on the software side what we really need is a single application for our smartphones that brings all the pieces together in one place.  When sickness calls, we cannot be expected to search through all of the different resources that are out there to solve the problem.  Instead what we need is a single AI application that we can tell our problem to, and then allow this application to take care of the rest.  I hope the Xprize can get its AI physician competition up and running soon.  Entrepreneurs, if you are listening, please get on it already – the improved healthcare of billions is at stake.

[image credit: http://iphonedoktor.dk/]

Discussion — 41 Responses

  • tlc June 15, 2010 on 11:43 am

    So there are a “billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours walk or drive from the nearest doctor” who also have smart phones?

    BTW, we’ll need smart phone medical care (not AI), just to handle the aging baby boom in the USA.

    • Jeremy tlc June 15, 2010 on 2:06 pm

      Tic, there will be if smart phones become useful enough. For a good portion of the human population, a smart phone is a huge investment, but apps like this couple start making the couple hundred dollars investment a couple thousand dollars savings. I’d say in the long run thats the most important part of this prize, not this specific app but that it encourages developers to start producing ground-breaking programs, rather than simple games and novelties.

      • Timothy Jeremy June 16, 2010 on 6:17 pm

        An enormous amount of the world, even out in the middle of Africa far away from cities, have cel phones–or at least access to one. It’s a substantial part of the world, because they’re just plain important. Tower coverage is a LOT wider out there than you’d think, too. And even if you don’t have one personally, you might be willing to walk a couple hours and hitch a ride to the nearest communications hub. It could be closer than the nearest doctor, and a lot less busy!

  • tlc June 15, 2010 on 7:43 am

    So there are a “billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours walk or drive from the nearest doctor” who also have smart phones?

    BTW, we’ll need smart phone medical care (not AI), just to handle the aging baby boom in the USA.

    • Jeremy tlc June 15, 2010 on 10:06 am

      Tic, there will be if smart phones become useful enough. For a good portion of the human population, a smart phone is a huge investment, but apps like this couple start making the couple hundred dollars investment a couple thousand dollars savings. I’d say in the long run thats the most important part of this prize, not this specific app but that it encourages developers to start producing ground-breaking programs, rather than simple games and novelties.

      • Timothy Jeremy June 16, 2010 on 2:17 pm

        An enormous amount of the world, even out in the middle of Africa far away from cities, have cel phones–or at least access to one. It’s a substantial part of the world, because they’re just plain important. Tower coverage is a LOT wider out there than you’d think, too. And even if you don’t have one personally, you might be willing to walk a couple hours and hitch a ride to the nearest communications hub. It could be closer than the nearest doctor, and a lot less busy!

  • zach wilson June 15, 2010 on 2:29 pm

    I dont know man, it seems like you could use a video phone to send information to two, independent human doctors for a quick analysis that would be more reliable and comforting than image matching technology. It could be combined with a self-assessment form that asks basic questions about how the patient is feeling to narrow down the possibilities. Having redundant doctors would allow for an instant second opinion. But I know we’re all about the Shining Robot Future here at Singularity Hub.

    • Daryl zach wilson June 15, 2010 on 4:27 pm

      Zach, how long would it take the doctors to do their “quick analysis”? Multiply that by the several million images being sent by concerned patients all over the world, and you’ll start to see why your idea just isn’t feasible. Even if we had a team of a thousand radiologists (who incidentally make 300K+ per year), doing nothing but interpreting this patient information, they would quickly be inundated. Only computers have the capacity and scalability to be effective here.

      I think this is one of the most promising projects I’ve read about in months. The biggest hurdle (and it’s a doozy) will be developing the AI to a point where it’s reliable and comparable to human doctors. But image processing/analysis algorithms are advancing every day. There are already many cases in which they’re more accurate than radiologists. Add to that the fact that algorithms can work 24/7 without suffering eye strain, do not require a salary, and can be “taught” to new machines instantly. We are looking at a true revolution here.

      • kyle Daryl June 24, 2010 on 1:43 pm

        So the AI on the iPhone is going to take xray’s and CT scans in the middle of an african village. What if you don’t have a rash to take a picture of? What if your symptoms are nausea, vomitting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain? the system’s gonna tell you gastroenteritis, its no big deal, when any physician out there knows the the list of differentials is extensive. Would you feel comfortable if it gives you a diagnosis that says gastroenteritis, and then 24 hrs later you have a ruptured appendicitis that required surgical intervention that you didnt seek a physician’s opinion for because your iphone told you not to worry about it? Then who do you sue? the iphone app?

        I dont see this is feasible

        • Patrick kyle August 16, 2010 on 1:38 pm

          You’re not seeing the big picture. Just like a doctor who knows that there are many diseases that show the same simptoms, the database on the smartphone will be able to narrow down the list. From there, it’s a matter of finding if there’s anything else that makes the illness stand out and if you have say 3 possible diseases, one of which is fatal, you can then send the patient to a clinic to get diagnosed correctly or treated.

          The hard part will be to program the doctors instinct and experience into the database as well as adjusting the risk parameters correctly. A lot of it is statistical analysis, having a large enough database of syptoms and proper risk assessment. Doctors to some extent do the same thing.

  • zach wilson June 15, 2010 on 10:29 am

    I dont know man, it seems like you could use a video phone to send information to two, independent human doctors for a quick analysis that would be more reliable and comforting than image matching technology. It could be combined with a self-assessment form that asks basic questions about how the patient is feeling to narrow down the possibilities. Having redundant doctors would allow for an instant second opinion. But I know we’re all about the Shining Robot Future here at Singularity Hub.

    • Daryl zach wilson June 15, 2010 on 12:27 pm

      Zach, how long would it take the doctors to do their “quick analysis”? Multiply that by the several million images being sent by concerned patients all over the world, and you’ll start to see why your idea just isn’t feasible. Even if we had a team of a thousand radiologists (who incidentally make 300K+ per year), doing nothing but interpreting this patient information, they would quickly be inundated. Only computers have the capacity and scalability to be effective here.

      I think this is one of the most promising projects I’ve read about in months. The biggest hurdle (and it’s a doozy) will be developing the AI to a point where it’s reliable and comparable to human doctors. But image processing/analysis algorithms are advancing every day. There are already many cases in which they’re more accurate than radiologists. Add to that the fact that algorithms can work 24/7 without suffering eye strain, do not require a salary, and can be “taught” to new machines instantly. We are looking at a true revolution here.

      • kyle Daryl June 24, 2010 on 9:43 am

        So the AI on the iPhone is going to take xray’s and CT scans in the middle of an african village. What if you don’t have a rash to take a picture of? What if your symptoms are nausea, vomitting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain? the system’s gonna tell you gastroenteritis, its no big deal, when any physician out there knows the the list of differentials is extensive. Would you feel comfortable if it gives you a diagnosis that says gastroenteritis, and then 24 hrs later you have a ruptured appendicitis that required surgical intervention that you didnt seek a physician’s opinion for because your iphone told you not to worry about it? Then who do you sue? the iphone app?

        I dont see this is feasible

        • Patrick kyle August 16, 2010 on 9:38 am

          You’re not seeing the big picture. Just like a doctor who knows that there are many diseases that show the same simptoms, the database on the smartphone will be able to narrow down the list. From there, it’s a matter of finding if there’s anything else that makes the illness stand out and if you have say 3 possible diseases, one of which is fatal, you can then send the patient to a clinic to get diagnosed correctly or treated.

          The hard part will be to program the doctors instinct and experience into the database as well as adjusting the risk parameters correctly. A lot of it is statistical analysis, having a large enough database of syptoms and proper risk assessment. Doctors to some extent do the same thing.

  • Chuck June 16, 2010 on 3:54 pm

    Will the AI physician have malpractice insurance to cover the huge number of malpractice suits such a program is sure to generate in the USA?

  • Chuck June 16, 2010 on 11:54 am

    Will the AI physician have malpractice insurance to cover the huge number of malpractice suits such a program is sure to generate in the USA?

  • Preston June 16, 2010 on 4:08 pm

    Good luck with the liability concerns about offering AI-provided medical advice to the general public. Never going to happen in the US, that’s for sure.

  • Preston June 16, 2010 on 12:08 pm

    Good luck with the liability concerns about offering AI-provided medical advice to the general public. Never going to happen in the US, that’s for sure.

  • NotARobot June 16, 2010 on 6:41 pm

    It will have to be use at your own risk, notoriously thoughout history, drug and medical companies have always known they can fly the product to a third world country and just test away until they’re content. Good in some situations but not all.

  • NotARobot June 16, 2010 on 2:41 pm

    It will have to be use at your own risk, notoriously thoughout history, drug and medical companies have always known they can fly the product to a third world country and just test away until they’re content. Good in some situations but not all.

  • martin0641 June 17, 2010 on 12:56 pm

    I think this, along with genetic/stem cell based treatments which will rescue us from the rising costs of healthcare. A hefty investment now in the IT and research portions will hasten the cost savings in the long run. Most people don’t want to speak to a person about certain medical issues anyway. A final “review” by an MD for prescriptions for most ailments would save time and money.

  • martin0641 June 17, 2010 on 8:56 am

    I think this, along with genetic/stem cell based treatments which will rescue us from the rising costs of healthcare. A hefty investment now in the IT and research portions will hasten the cost savings in the long run. Most people don’t want to speak to a person about certain medical issues anyway. A final “review” by an MD for prescriptions for most ailments would save time and money.

  • medstflow June 17, 2010 on 8:33 pm

    i want to see how a cellphone takes your history and does a physical examination.
    Step 22
    place cellphone so it feels your cervical lymphnodes…
    Yes and ultrasound right next to the gyroscope.

    Bloodtests via 3G

  • medstflow June 17, 2010 on 4:33 pm

    i want to see how a cellphone takes your history and does a physical examination.
    Step 22
    place cellphone so it feels your cervical lymphnodes…
    Yes and ultrasound right next to the gyroscope.

    Bloodtests via 3G

  • John 14:23 July 27, 2010 on 9:25 pm

    Help make an AI Physician a reality by contributing to an annotated bibliography of related research at http://physician.sourceforge.net

    “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'” John 14:23 (NIV)

  • John 14:23 July 27, 2010 on 5:25 pm

    Help make an AI Physician a reality by contributing to an annotated bibliography of related research at http://physician.sourceforge.net

    “Jesus replied, ‘If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.'” John 14:23 (NIV)

  • David Schmidt September 3, 2013 on 2:51 pm

    Will the AI physician have malpractice insurance to cover the huge number of malpractice suits such a program is sure to generate in the USA?

    http://www.macvision.dk/shop