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Medicine Cellphones Science

X Prize Foundation Wants AI Physician On Every Smartphone 245

kkleiner writes "One of the exciting ideas being tossed around recently at the X Prize Foundation is the creation of an Artificial Intelligence physician that you could access from your smartphone. Want to know if that rash on your leg is poison ivy or smallpox? Take a photo of it with your phone and ask the AI. The possibilities are enormous, especially for the billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours' walk or drive from the nearest doctor." This is one of four X Prizes in planning for the future. The other three are for an AI automobile driver, organ generation through stem cell use, and a deep sea submersible capable of exploring the sea floor.
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X Prize Foundation Wants AI Physician On Every Smartphone

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @10:56AM (#32590618)

    Want to know if that rash on your leg is poison ivy or smallpox?

    Not smallpox. C4n I plz haz the prize?

  • by Burz ( 138833 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @10:57AM (#32590622) Homepage Journal

    http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/internet-makes-hypochondria-worse [webmd.com]

    Would the smartphone version be any better?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )
      Depends how it's done. If they manage to make it more of a tricorder eventually including some testing equipment or the photos are sent to somebody with knowledge hen probably not. It's not likely to replace an exam any time soon, but it would be helpful for contacting the consulting nurse as to whether or not to come in for an appointment.

      But yes, if it just looks things up without any kind of smarts, then it's most likely just going to make things worse.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Pojut ( 1027544 )

      Does anyone else find it hilarious that one of the primary contributors to Internet Hypochondria has an article about how bad Internet Hypochondria has gotten?

    • >>>Would the smartphone version be any better?

      "Please state the nature of the emergency. Oh. It's you again. What now???" ----- I suspect not any better. And then after people got sick of the AI Doctor, he would be relegated to mining duty.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Well - wouldn't the smart phone version be able to differentiate the diseases from common blunders?

      I could see a hypochondriac using this feature to learn that "That Bump" is just a pimple.

      Which, I know - doesn't usually help hypochondriacs, even a real doctor generally doesn't sway their mind. So I don't see why a smartphone app when the internet is already widely available making it any worse. (If you can find more people who own a smart phone who don't have access to the internet at least once a week tha

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by IICV ( 652597 )

      Exactly - the problem isn't creating an AI physician, the problem is creating an AI physician that you can't lie to blatantly. It would be trivial to create a little program that's little more than an enhanced version of those 20 question balls [20q.net] and runs a differential diagnosis engine; something like that would cover 90% of all diseases after a few rounds. It could show you little pictures like "do your bumps look more like this [wikipedia.org] or more like this [wikipedia.org]?", or any number enhancements. It would probably work incredi

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        This is your usual example of an expert system from an undergraduate introductory AI course.

        I'm not sure such a system warrants an X prize. This is the sort of thing that isn't done more because of legal liability than technical limitations.

        Although a photographic "name that rash" app could be cool.

        There are already websites that you can use for fueling your hypochondria based on a list of symptoms.

      • by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @01:00PM (#32591874)

        It's even more problematic than you think. As a doctor, many times I have patients coming to me with "agonizing abdominal pain" - they are sure it's appendicitis. If you check their stomach or ask them "does it hurt here?" they jump and cry and wail, etc. etc. But if I start talking to them on other subjects (What do you do in your life? Are you married? Children?) and get them diverted, I find out many times that they "forget" about their pain and the stomach is as soft and non-tender as can be.
        This is one of the reasons that no app can replace a physical exam by a doctor. You need the doctor-patient relationship to strip away the anxiety and find out the true magnitude of the symptoms. So, yes, an app like the one in TFA could be nice as a handy reference, but nothing beats the good-old face-to-face meeting.

        • by bitflip ( 49188 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @02:02PM (#32592672)

          I was having some pain in my chest a couple of years back, and did some research on the internet, but none of the symptoms fit. So, I went to my doctor, and told him I'd done some research, but it didn't seem like a heart problem. When he looked surprised, I asked him if I was the only person who'd said they'd looked stuff up on the internet, and decided nothing was wrong. He said, pretty much, yea.

          (turned out to be a minor stomach problem, all fixed now - thanks doc!)

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Icarus1919 ( 802533 )
      Actually, this would be perfect for all that hypochondriac that lives more than a few hours walk from a doctor in a third world country, but has a smartphone.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @12:04PM (#32591304)
      Don't worry, the AMA [wikipedia.org] would never allow it (not in the U.S. anyway). Their main function is to protect the livelihood of their members (aka physicians). Anything that threatens their monopoly is immediately labeled a health hazard and banned in the U.S.
      • Based on the size and influence of the America "nutritional supplements" industry, the ADA won't be able to do much more than force US sellers to print "This product is for novelty purposes only and is not intended to treat, diagnose, or cure any disease. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA." somewhere on the package.

        You can sell virtually anything, so long as you slap that on the package and stick to vague claims like "improves immune function" and "enhances wellbeing". You don't even have
      • In the industry, this is a concept that has already been talked about quite a bit. In fact, a common mantra heard at AMIA [wikipedia.org] conventions is the oft recited, "Any physician who can be replaced by a computer should be."

        Unfortunately, that is MUCH easier said than done. And while clinical decision support systems exist to help physicians with their patient diagnosis, every physician uses them as a guideline, and not as an absolute reference or comprehensive source of information. Experience is heavily valued,

      • by jeffporcaro ( 1010187 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @02:17PM (#32592824)
        OMG, I *wish* this were true of the AMA. As a physician and still active member, I can tell you that this couldn't be further from the truth. The AMA's primary business is publishing and maintaining insurance coding and billing standards, and selling their databases to the highest bidder. They employ lobbyists primarily to maintain that monopoly - they are NOT particularly interested in maintaining insurance or government payments to physicians (aka "livelihood"), although they make noises on that topic occasionally. They've basically been relegated to the sidelines on most national issues involving medicine. They represent less than 30% of active US physicians. I hear this same trope frequently, however, despite the fact that it's demonstrably false.
  • Hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Spad ( 470073 ) <slashdot@spad.c o . uk> on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @10:58AM (#32590636) Homepage

    Because having medical advice available on the internet hasn't led to people flooding GP surgeries because they're convinced their cough is actually Ebola.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by hedwards ( 940851 )
      That's why some health insurance companies provide a complimentary consulting nurse. Basically somebody that's available around the clock to answer those, should I call 911, go to the emergency room, make an appointment or just ignore it suggestions. Obviously they tend to be a bit action biased as doing a screening over the phone isn't easy, but it does help people make better decisions about what is urgent and what can wait.
      • In the UK we have NHS Direct [nhsdirect.nhs.uk] which is both 24-7 telephone and online screening and advice, run by the national healthcare system. From personal experience, it's very good.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          I hope they are better than the stories I've come out of NICE (aka nasty). Over in the State of France they have a screening service, where doctors answer emergency calls directly and can provide medical care immediately, or else send an ambulance if the sick person needs hospital treatment. It has saved the State Government a lot of money by eliminating un-necessary ambulance/hospital visits.

          This seems a good idea for the US Member States to copy, hiring actual doctors to handle 911 calls, rather than

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by vlm ( 69642 )

        consulting nurse

        Somehow, despite it "requiring" AI, for liability reasons, other than the most trivial of follow up issues, it'll probably end up 99% of the time as a semi-realtime nifty videoconference frontend for existing consulting nurses.

        I would also anticipate some "self nursing". Rather than paying someone to glance at a sutured wound, have the patient photograph it with their cellphone and have a centralized nurse (and/or dr) review a stack of pictures at once. Rather than paying a nurse to stick a thermometer in

        • [...] it'll probably end up 99% of the time as a semi-realtime nifty videoconference frontend for existing consulting nurses.

          Sounds like Chat Roulette for the medical sector. Hmm, insert your own jokes here.

    • Because having medical advice available on the internet hasn't led to people flooding GP surgeries because they're convinced their cough is actually Ebola.

      Right, the internet created hypochondriacs, just like videogames created murderers and the Austrian waltz created coveting of ankles.

    • by Yvanhoe ( 564877 )
      Medical expert on internet is usually of the kind "Hey! it looks like what I had! You should try [random cure]". The proposal is for a system expert that would have an exhaustive medical knowledge of the possible causes and proposing probable cures. It could actually beat some human doctors. Remember the game of 20 questions ? Computers are stupidly good at that. Recognizing symptoms of a disease is the same kind of game.

      "-I have a red harsh on my leg"
      "-Do you have some on both legs ? Y/N"
      "-Did you get
  • I read the title as Al (like short for Albert or Alfred) Physician - I thought to myself, "What a funny name for a doctor."

    Dang sans serif fonts...
    • Al Physician is the healthplan of Al Queda.
      "Just blow yourself up with this fertilizer and diesel and call me in the morning if the rash is still there."

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:00AM (#32590668)

    Here Lies Jim
    His cellphone said it wasn't cancer.

  • Bad idea (Score:3, Informative)

    by Kazymyr ( 190114 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:01AM (#32590684) Journal

    A smartphone cannot perform a physical exam. Enough said.

  • by Angst Badger ( 8636 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:01AM (#32590688)

    ...for an epidemic of medical student's disease.

  • by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:02AM (#32590690)

    Tell me more about X Prize foundation Wants AI Physician On Every Smartphone. /emacs

  • Nice idea, but... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by miaDWZ ( 820679 ) * <alan@alanish[ ]ood.id.au ['erw' in gap]> on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:02AM (#32590692) Homepage
    The thing is going to get killed a week after public release after the AI 'misdiagnosis' someone and they decide to sue.
    • There is a world outside of the litigation-happy US, you know...

  • Why mention stem cells specifically in the prize description? I'd rather see something like "Create replacement organs in the lab with MTBF of X years" but I guess that doesn't have quite the same ring to it. Different organs lend themselves to different replacement strategies better than others. The first long term implantable artificial hearts are just coming to the market, at the same time stem cells are being used to build the first replacement bladders, also at the same time some basic nanotech is l

  • Slacking (Score:3, Funny)

    by Coffee Warlord ( 266564 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:02AM (#32590696)

    Six posts in and no comments about your phone saying "please state the nature of your medical emergency".


  • Perfect. All you'll need is one of those phones with a built in projector.

    "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."
  • by smooth wombat ( 796938 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:03AM (#32590708) Journal

    "Please state the nature of the medical emergency."

  • Lawsuits will be a problem. And though we've got the technology for AI medical diagnosis (at least for some stuff), the visual processing suggested by the story is still a bit beyond us. (Cf. yesterday's story about identifying images of genitals on chatroulette.)

  • Seriously, isn't it time to stop overusing, abusing and misusing the term AI? Such primitive software doesn't come even close to the kind of intelligence people with IQ of 100 or higher have. Thanks.

    • by bcmm ( 768152 )
      Image recognition is certainly an considered a part of "AI" research, because it is still a task which is very simple for humans and very hard for machines. The term "AI" is a bit strange anyway - whenever a goal of AI research is reached, we realise that that task didn't' actually need "intelligence" (whatever that is) - for example, the world chess champion is a machine, and we still don't have consider AI to have arrived. I suspect we won't really notice the point at which machines start to get better at
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by John Hasler ( 414242 )

        > Image recognition is certainly considered a part of "AI" research...

        According to the anti-AI crowd AI is whatever it is that computers can't do yet. There was a time when all agreed that a machine playing a credible game of chess would constitute proof that AI had arrived but now defeating grand masters is "mere computation".

        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          ...yeah. There was a time: the 50's perhaps.

          Even before there was a computer big enough to defeat a chess grand master by brute force, such an undertaking would have been described as a weak example of AI.

  • Of course I wouldn't want to get sued so my app would just tell you to go see a real doctor you idiot no matter what happened.
    • Round here, you could replace the General Practitioner with a similar app that sent you to the hospital.

  • Yeah... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SolitaryMan ( 538416 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:12AM (#32590810) Homepage Journal

    Especially for the billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours walk or drive from the nearest doctor.

    Yeah, to all four of them, who actually have a smartphone

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      When I visited Thailand, I was amazed to see that so much of the country is poor and without healthcare, yet they ALL have cellphones. In fact, Thailand has the 5th highest cellphone ownership rate in the world (1.25 cellphones per person, on average). It's crazy to go to a hill tribe village 2 hours from anywhere else, see that they probably don't even have running water, yet they're all listening to music or chatting on their cellphone. I don't even know how they charge them! I didn't think they had r
  • by AdmiralXyz ( 1378985 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:13AM (#32590814)
    "You have severe inflammation of the cerebral cortex, human. The only cure is to wire your brain into the AI Overmind. Proceed at once to the nearest Community Conversion Center."
  • to bad high data rates will kill this and roaming fees can make seeing a real doctor cost less.

  • How many people... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:20AM (#32590870) Homepage Journal
    How many people in the world that live several hours walk from a doctor or hospital have smartphones? How well does that smartphone work with no coverage? I don't think they tend to put in cell towers in areas where the nearest human population complex is 30 miles away.
    • > I don't think they tend to put in cell towers in areas where the nearest
      > human population complex is 30 miles away.

      ROFL. I live 30 miles (a 15 minute drive) from the nearest hospital. We have excellent cell phone coverage.

      • by arielCo ( 995647 )
        In GSM the cell size is limited to about 35 km radius, because the frame length limits the amount of timing advance [wikipedia.org]. CDMA is free from such issues, so the max size is largely dependent on frequency, possibly up to 40 mi [freepatentsonline.com] depending on TRx power and frequency.
    • by 3dr ( 169908 )

      Patient: I've walked for six hours to get to your clinic, I'm famished and have severe abdominal pains. I need to recharge.

      Nurse: We'll get you some water and take a look.

      Patient: I'm not talking about thirst, I'm talking about my Android phone!

    • More than you imagine. In Africa, cell phones are the first telephone infrastructure in place, because wiring people's houses is much more difficult than setting up a few towers.

      In China, after bottles and such were banned from sports stadiums, people began throwing their cell phones at the officials when they made what the crowd thought was a bad call.
  • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:21AM (#32590878)

    This is a terrible idea. However I guarantee that the AI algorithm will have a "success" rate of around 85%, since that is the rate at which illnesses spontaneously cure themselves. This rate is why homeopathy, snake oil salesmen, faith healers and all other forms of shamans and charlatans manage to convince people of their effectiveness. Too bad that 15% of the patients will suffer permanent disability or die using these methods. That's the part of the statistic we doctors manage to concentrate on and improve, the 15% that really need help...

    • That's an interesting stat. I never heard that before, but it makes sense.

      As a non-physician, AI hobbyist, this article makes me sad.

      Computers have so much potential to improve the quality and decrease the costs of healthcare, yet this almost never happens.

      Instead, we end of with complex systems meant to mitigate legal liability, expensive system whose sole purpose is to provide another billable test, and IT departments that care more about building fiefdoms than enabling improvements in patient care.

      Want t

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      What if you or your colleagues aren't available (or at least not in sufficient numbers) at a given place? Isn't it worthwhile to at least try to help part of those remaining 15%? (don't tell me you can help all of them...)

      BTW, do you have any solid source at hand for thise 85% stat? Might be useful to me.

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

        BTW, do you have any solid source at hand for thise 85% stat? Might be useful to me.

        Medical school. No seriously, it's in most medical texts that have to do with diagnostics/semiology and/or family medicine texts (Rakel [amazon.com] would be a good place to start, I think I remember a break-down in the first few chapters, etc) that break down what patients consult for by disease type. I'm not a walking library and I can't hand you a reference with page numbers, etc, but I'm not making it up. Once y

      • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) *

        Isn't it worthwhile to at least try to help part of those remaining 15%?

              Please explain how your smart-phone will dispense medication and/or apply treatment (assuming it is correct)? Simply knowing what you have will not cure you.

              If you can get to "civilization" where there is a pharmacy, there is also a doctor somewhere close.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by oddTodd123 ( 1806894 )

      Doctors are notoriously stubborn and arrogant about their abilities, and they refuse to believe that a significant share of medical practice can be routinized to be performed by much lower skilled and educated people. From simple hand washing [google.com] to using checklists [google.com], doctors have steadfastly resisted any change that implies they could be doing their job better, or that someone with less training could do the same job.

      Nobody is suggesting the smartphone perform open heart surgery, but if it can use image recogni

    • Any time I see someone wanting to solve a problem of software, I ask myself, "what is the best estimate of the minimum information resources needed to cover all cases of that problem?"

      For the problem of diagnosing health problems in humans, I'd say that the current best estimate is the amount of training and ongoing learning needed to maintain a team of human physicians with a diverse range of specialties.

      If you want to solve that problem in software, I'd expect you'd have to gather such a team and have the

  • Uh oh (Score:3, Insightful)

    by WetCat ( 558132 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:22AM (#32590882)

    Why do you need AI physician if you already have a phone? Just send a real physician (non-American, of course, because US physicians are really overpriced ones thanks to various professional insurances and malpractice lawsuits) a MMS with your views and symptoms. That will be better analyzed, anyhow.

  • The possibilities are enormous, especially for the billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours' walk or drive from the nearest doctor."

    And yet... they'll have smartphones?

    I know, a lot of countries skip land lines and go to cell phones... but all those people who live hours away from the nearest doctor will have smartphones (as opposed to normal cell phones)?

    • by bsDaemon ( 87307 )

      In the future all phones will be smart... really, really smart. Maybe they'll even be able to create clean water supplies, build sewage infrastructure, and terraform in-arable land into something productive so that people don't starve, either!

    • In ten years, what we call a 'smartphone' will be a 'normal cell phone'. Think of places like Lagos where in the slum areas you can have access to electricity and cellular phone service but basics like pluming, sewage, and, yes, access to doctors remain a problem.

    • by sznupi ( 719324 )

      What is a "smartphone" anyway? Latest incarnations of S40 (probably the most popular mobile phone platform on the planet) aren't really that different from the functions, say, iPhone offers; SE "feature phones" even have full multitasking...
      And Symbian smartphones are geting closer and closer to the $100 mark (without contract, of course)
      The distinction will get blurred / more and more people will be getting "full" smartphones anyway.

      There is greater uptake of mobile phones generally than you think; 3.3 bil

  • I guess this prize is already won, then. See http://www.automobile.com/stanford-and-vw-self-driven-vehicles.html [automobile.com]
  • Especially for the billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours walk or drive from the nearest doctor

    This is brilliant logic, because all of the peole I know who live more then a few hours from the nearest doctor are all about 3.5 hours from decent 3G coverage (more if they have AT&T).

    People are retarded, what's next we plan on giving kids who are primarily worried about starving or being shot at by the rival drug gang in Africa a laptop?

    • by Krneki ( 1192201 )

      Especially for the billion plus people around the world who live more than a few hours walk or drive from the nearest doctor

      This is brilliant logic, because all of the peole I know who live more then a few hours from the nearest doctor are all about 3.5 hours from decent 3G coverage (more if they have AT&T). People are retarded, what's next we plan on giving kids who are primarily worried about starving or being shot at by the rival drug gang in Africa a laptop?

      Of course, this way we only need a couple of laptops with the disclaimer "upon death the laptop returns to the previous owner".

  • print "Take two asprin and call me in the morning";

    Where do I pick up my check?

  • The notion of creating a diagnostic heuristic isn't particularly novel, and given the frailty of human memory and other inadequacies of the human brain it has the potential to eliminate a significant number of errors in medical diagnoses. The problem with a machine doing this, in my experience, is the diagnostic component -- many diagnoses are based upon the physician's qualitative interpretation of the patient's symptoms (i.e. as experienced diagnosticians).

    Nevertheless, somebody clever will undoubtedly ev

    • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

      IOW: a machine will be as good as a "nurse practicioner" or a mediocre physician.

      I HATE it when someone wants to shove a nurse-pretending-to-be-a-doctor in my face. Mediocre HMO doctors are bad enough.

  • This brings back memories of The Simpsons when Lisa types in Homer and Bart's symptoms into the virtual doctor. The virtual doctor a la Steven Case spews out, "You've got .... leprosy"
  • # Press 1 for heart attacks
    # Press 2 for aneurysm symptoms
    # Press 3 for severed limbs or profuse bleeding

    Please stay on hold while we contact a physician for you


  • by hamburgler007 ( 1420537 ) on Wednesday June 16, 2010 @11:51AM (#32591174)
    has herpes.
  • It's a cute idea, but probably works about as well as self-diagnosis through Google.

    More useful would be portable, automatic test equipment for blood samples. This is already available (PowerPoint file, will open with Open Office Impress) [abaxis.com] in a small desktop machine. It's marketed, though, as a device which allows US medical practitioners to do blood tests in their offices while charging insurance companies the usual price an outside lab would charge. These things need to come down to the cost of a high

  • I have seen this coming for some time, as I'm sure many people have.

    Most of the time when you go to the doctor, he is guessing at your symptoms based on a verbal patient interview. Unless the symptoms have a physical manifestation that the doctor can see or measure, diagnosis is largely guesswork.

    There is no reason why this sort of guesswork needs to be done by a highly trained and expensive person. The only reason why we do is we are afraid of the consequences of guessing wrong so we feel better by havin

  • The addendum just mentions in passing this is only one of four new X Prizes, however the other three all sound much more interesting than an AI Physician for cellphones. Organ regrowth/replacement and AI cars could have a huge impact on our lives, and even a new deep sea submersible sounds kind of cool. As others have pointed out there are already a lot of health resources on the web that are accessible by smartphone. This seems more like evolutionary development than revolutionary.

"In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." -- Thomas Jefferson