Google-owned DeepMind has been developing a medical app for use in hospitals, called Streams, and has announced that the app will now be co-developed and co-run with Google, helping to give it the AI boost that it was originally envisioned with. DeepMind wants to use Google’s resources to scale the app for large-scale use, and to help analyze the data that the app takes in on an anonymized basis. The actual Streams team will stay in London, and all of the large quantities of personally identifiable patient data being used or gathered in some way related to the project will remain under the control of DeepMind’s NHS partners.
Background: Part of the reason for this move, aside from being able to use Google’s vast data center and AI computing resources to help process data to inform the planned AI assistant and search for trends that can help with diagnosis and early treatment, is Google’s recent hiring of Dr. David Feinberg. The former Geisinger CEO is already in charge of many of the healthcare-related operations for Search and other tools within the company, and also helps to organize health-related direct efforts like Google Fit. Feinberg’s experience in both AI and the medical world leave him uniquely qualified to help DeepMind shape Streams into a powerful AI assistant.
Impact: While DeepMind swears that no personally identifiable data will be making its way into Google’s servers, it’s not hard to see why the decision has many in the UK medical community more than a bit shaken up. This is an AI project on a massive scale that depends on an extremely large store of intimate patient data in order to accomplish its goal, and taking the personally identifiable factors out of all of that data, essentially sterilizing it, is a big ask. On top of that, DeepMind is owned by Google, making a breach of trust that much easier for the company to commit without anybody noticing. The market for personal information these days is huge and wildly lucrative, and it’s one that Google already participates in. Tossing in the goldmine of medical data gathered as part of DeepMind and NHS’ joint project would be a simple matter and would likely spell one massive payday. DeepMind has specifically discounted this possibility, but experts have their doubts. Lawyer Julia Powles called the move “trust demolition”. As if the move weren’t already concerning enough, it’s worth noting that the UK, and the EU in general, is a population that is big on privacy, especially in relation to medical matters. The deal between DeepMind and the London-based NHS chain of hospitals has already come under fire, and now the matter has escalated to the point that the potential for a violation of the GDPR, an EU law that the UK had a huge part in bringing to life, is simply too big to ignore. Still, this deal holds a lot of promise for the medical community. An AI that’s already had experience with the medical field and is loaded with medical knowledge to compare patient data against will now not only crunch that data to look for early treatment breakthroughs, but will also serve as an intuitive AI assistant for in-network nurses and doctors, and all of this will be powered by Google’s considerable AI smarts, developmental prowess, and raw computing might. Only time will tell if this controversial move is worth it.