Google is betting that the future of healthcare is going to be structured data and AI. The company is applying AI to disease detection, new data infrastructure, and potentially insurance. In this report we explore Google's many healthcare initiatives and areas of potential future expansion. Google has always seen itself as more than a search and advertising company. Now it's turning its focus to healthcare, betting that its AI prowess can create a powerful new paradigm for the detection, diagnosis, and treatment of disease. "So tomorrow, if AI can shape healthcare, it has to work through the regulations of healthcare … In fact, I see that as one of the biggest areas is where the benefits will play out for the next 10 – 20 years." In short, Google seems to be going after the healthcare space from every possible angle. For example, did you know that Google has a project to release sterilized mosquitoes to control the spread of infectious disease? Or that the company has started a limited commercial rollout of its diabetes management program? Or that it appears to be exploring insurance? Note: For simplicity we use "Google" as shorthand for the larger Alphabet company, under which many of these healthcare initiatives fall. We explain the Alphabet structure below. As Google enters healthcare, it's leaning heavily on its expertise in AI. Health data is getting digitized and structured, from a new electronic record standard to imaging to DNA sequencing.
One aspect of Artificial Intelligence is an effort to build machines and to advance technology using Google Alphabet that can learn from environments, from mishaps, and from real-life user experience to help individuals seeking a medical diagnosis. This takes advantage of Google's intelligent medical search engine. A lot of research and testing goes into finding the right path and the right breakthrough. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in a company's annual Founders' Letter to stockholders back in April, "This is another important step toward creating artificial intelligence that can help us in everything from accomplishing our daily tasks and travels to eventually tackling even bigger challenges like climate change and cancer diagnosis." He cited examples such as voice search, translation tools, and image recognition; he spoke about how Google scientists work to build products that improve over time, making them increasingly useful and helpful to the human race. U.S. Internet users can now search Google for help sorting out medical symptoms and not just actual conditions. While it may be surprising the number of individuals who ask Google to help to diagnose ailments, Google's mobile site, as well as its iOS and Android apps, now have a feature that that proposes to track down information on medical symptoms. Instead of having to search for a medical condition, an individual can search for a certain symptom, such as "I have a pounding headache."
While digital health is a simple concept -- using technology to help improve individuals' health and wellness -- it's a broad and growing sector. It can cover everything from wearable gadgets to ingestible sensors, from mobile health apps to artificial intelligence, from robotic carers to electronic records. Why is digital health so important? The industry's aims are diverse and complicated: preventing disease, helping patients monitor and manage chronic conditions, lowering the cost of healthcare provision, and making medicine more tailored to individual needs. What makes the healthcare industry interesting is that those aims could potentially stand to benefit both patients, as well as their healthcare providers.
Verily, DeepMind, and Calico are all part of Google's long game for the future for the company. If you've ever been in hospital or found yourself with a major illness, you'll know how often doctors will check up on you: recording your pulse, measuring your weight, ordering blood tests, and taking samples. That means doctors have a pretty good idea of what seriously ill looks like. However, they don't have the same level of detail about what a generally healthy person looks like -- the medical profession spends a lot less time and attention taking details from people that aren't obviously unwell. Project Baseline, however, reckons healthy people could provide a wealth of data that could not only help predict if they're going to fall sick, but also be used to delay the onset of disease -- or even avoid it altogether.
Google employees, squeezed onto metal risers and standing in the back of a meeting room, erupted in cheers as newly arrived executive Andrew Conrad announced they would try to turn science fiction into reality: The tech giant had formed a biotech venture to create a futuristic device like Star Trek's iconic "Tricorder" diagnostic wizard -- and use it to cure cancer. Conrad, recalled an employee who was present, displayed images on the room's big screens showing nanoparticles tracking down cancer cells in the bloodstream and flashing signals to a Fitbit-style wristband. He promised a working prototype of the cancer early-detection device within six months. That was three years ago. Recently departed employees said the prototype didn't work as hoped, and the Tricorder project is floundering. Tricorder is not the only misfire for Google's ambitious and extravagantly funded biotech venture, now named Verily Life Sciences. It has announced three signature projects meant to transform medicine, and a STAT examination found that all of them are plagued by serious, if not fatal, scientific shortcomings, even as Verily has vigorously promoted their promise.