Microsoft unveils $40 million ‘AI for Health’ program

Whilst advances in modern medicine are saving lives and curing diseases, health inequity is still heavily prevalent. Microsoft are combatting this, with a program aimed at scaling solutions worldwide.

Microsoft Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative (CDDI)
AI-enabled health tools can diagnose diseases faster, and slash mortality rates. Image: Microsoft

AI for Health

The AI for Health program is the latest Microsoft AI for Good initiative. This is not Microsoft paying lip service to use their resources for positive change. The program is worth $165 million – so far.

AI for Health is the newest $40 million five year program. This funding is used to support researchers and organizations in using AI to fight health inequity and help to scale medical solutions around the world.

Health inequity

The statistics are both awe-inspiring, and saddening. Healthcare is quantified against baseline stats such as child and maternal mortality. Both rates have reduced by half in the last 27 years.

This speaks volumes about the developments in healthcare and the work of the global medical community.

However, the benefit of the incredible feats of modern medicine is felt more in some countries than others. Microsoft uses these statistics to illustrate their point:

  • Child mortality in Finland is 43.7 per 100,000 live births. Somalia’s rate is 1,899.2 per 100,000
  • The US maternal mortality rate is 29.9 per 100,000 live births. Chads rate is 383.3 per 100,000

The harsh reality is that if you have a baby in Somalia rather than Finland, your child is 43 times more likely to die. It sums up health inequity in one statistic.

AI solutions

AI isn’t the solution to all the worlds problems, but it can go a long way to helping. There are three key areas to the AI for Health program:

  1. Quest for discovery – accelerating medical research to find cures, immunizations and faster ways to diagnose illnesses
  2. Global health insights – sharing data and information to protect the world from epidemics
  3. Health equity – equalizing access to healthcare innovation around the world

What Microsoft is doing, is funding access to shared data and technology to help us all – as a global society – share our knowledge and resources.

I believe this thinking is the future. It could not come at a more relevant time, with the Coronavirus causing worldwide concern.

World mortality rates
Health inequity statistics show how mortality rates vary wildly around the world. Image: Microsoft

Global health

John Kahan, Chief Data Analytics Officer, published the announcement from Microsoft and says:

I am honored to lead AI for Health as part of my mission at Microsoft to fuse AI and data to address the world’s greatest challenges. As a tech company, it is our responsibility to ensure that organizations working on the most pressing societal issues have access to our latest AI technology and the expertise of our technical talent.

Microsoft has been proving their sense of social responsibility over the past few months, and I think should be applauded. Wielding their might to strengthen causes for good is a powerful statement.

They were one of the first organizations to sign up to Contract for the Web. This is the movement created by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet, to empower his technology to bring about worldwide positive change.

Microsoft AI for Good
Extending access to AI around the world is being used in both healthcare and humanitarian work. Image: Microsoft

AI advancements

The AI for Health program includes multiple initiatives, but understanding the scope and scale of just some of them helps show what this program could mean.

One of the leading causes of adult blindness is diabetic retinopathy. Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems (IRIS) use AI to spot the potential for the disease by analyzing images. Rolling out access to IRIS systems around the world could save the sight of tens of thousands of people.

AI is in use at Seattle Children’s Research Institute to analyze data to identify the root causes behind disorders such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Having data from around the world to analyze might take us one step closer to understanding why SIDS occurs, and even being able to prevent it.

There is no doubt in my mind that resources pooled are far stronger. Microsoft is leading the way and showing tangible evidence of how this program can make a global difference. I hope others will follow.

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