Google’s Brain Team, yes that’s their real name, has been working on using deep learning and computer algorithms to assist in the detection of a common eye condition that affects diabetics, Diabetic retinopathy (DR). Traditionally diagnosis of DR requires a DR to photograph the back of your eye (the retina) and examine it for clinical signs of the disorder.
This process is typically annual for at-risk patients, or those already diagnosed. In the Western world, this consumes a considerable amount of resources, in developing nations these services are often unavailable. As a result, DR is the fastest growing cause of blindness internationally, with 415 million people at risk worldwide.
As a response to the scale of the problem and the early success of their Deep Learning solution, the Google researchers have today published a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association outlining the success of their current generation of DR detection.
The Deep learning algorithm was able to detect DR with a similar success rate to that of a trained ophthalmologist. This is thanks to the 128,000 images that Google’s team working collaboratively with a team of US and Indian Doctors used to train the deep learning system. Whilst still early in the application this technology could be used in to increase the screening of large populations for DR at a much-reduced cost.
A computer system wouldn’t eliminate the need for medical professionals however it would make the job of screening vast numbers of retinal photographs much quicker allowing the medical staff to focus on the borderline judgements and treating those who are diagnosed with the condition.
Technology often gets a bad social wrap, technology has been blamed for job losses, increased social isolation and worst of all twerking! And perhaps rightfully so, often technology companies are so focused on if they can do something that perhaps the larger social ramifications of those changes aren’t considered. But that is a pattern of all advancements throughout history.
However, it’s initiative like this that show just how society at large can benefit from technology and progress in general. Now if Google could just invent the Medical tricorder to diagnose and treat all of our ailments perhaps we could all move into our Star Trek futures where money is a thing of the past and we all just work for the betterment of society and knowledge? Unfortunately, I think we’re more likely to develop warp speed before we achieve that kind of social harmony and enlightenment!