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What's the first thing you do when you're experiencing a worrying symptom? Chances are that you, rather than consulting your family care physician, run straight for your computer. "Dr Google", random folks on the internet call that. Twenty-first century patients are already connected and Google already plays a huge informal role in the way most of us gather information about our health.
It's not just patients, either — physicians, too, make frequent use of the internet when they encounter rare symptoms that they know could point to an obscure syndrome they know exists but can't quite remember the name of, for instance.
Thanks to the internet, of which Google is arguably akin to a monarch, valuable healthcare information is at the tip of your fingers. (A lot of nonsense too, of course, but as long as you know what's what, you're good.) Will Google penetrate our healthcare systems more formally as well, rather than "simply" being the vehicle that delivers us sources of information?
Whatever Happened To Google Health?
The new Google DeepMind Health is hardly the first time the popular search engine attempted to make an impact on the way in which we "do" healthcare. In 2008, a now almost-forgotten service called simply "Google Health" was launched with the aim of allowing users to integrate their health records, making them readily available in a single place. By cross-referencing different sources, the service would be able to provide patients with information about potential interactions between medications they were taking, allergies they might have, and health conditions they could be suffering from.
Google Health might have been a brilliant idea, but the service was nonetheless retired in 2014, just four years after its launch. Google itself cited "not having the broad impact that we hoped it would" as the reason for discontinuing its personal health records service.
DeepMind started as a rather exciting British artificial intelligence company in 2010, co-founded by chess prodigy Demis Hassabis. The artificial neural network developed by the company mimicked the way in which humans learn from the start. Acquired by Google for an obnoxious sum of money in 2014, the company, now Google DeepMind, reached new heights.
At the start of 2016, its AlphaGo AI program was able to beat top player Lee Sedol from South Korea at Go, an ancient Chinese game infinitely more complex than chess. Considering that this game, which is over 5000 years old, is said to "possess more possibilities than there are atoms in the universe", that's certainly beyond impressive.
Go was chosen precisely because it's arguably the most complex game in the world, and yet also one that depends on intuition rather than pure logic to win. Predicting healthcare outcomes is not that different, and Google DeepMind is committed to "mak[ing] the world a better place by developing technologies that help address some of society's toughest challenges".