Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Wednesday, April 1, 2020
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Microsoft Launches $40M AI for Health Initiative 

Even as AI has become pervasive across many tech-heavy industries, the medical industry has moved with a characteristically slow pace, and functional AI implementation in healthcare remains relatively rare. Microsoft now aims to accelerate that process with its announcement of a new, $40 million “AI for Health” program aimed at improving healthcare around the world with an emphasis on under-served communities.

The five-year program, developed in collaboration with leading health experts, will focus on three AI-based strategies: accelerating medical research; increasing understanding of mortality and longevity to guard against global health crises; and reducing health inequity. Microsoft says AI for Health will “complement” Microsoft Healthcare with a more specific focus on supporting individual nonprofits by providing access to cash grants, AI tools, cloud computing and Microsoft researchers.

“The health of people and communities around the world has been improving over time,” said John Kahan, Microsoft Chief Data Analytics Officer and head of AI for Health. “However, progress has not been equal across the globe, and there is a great need to focus on societal issues such as reducing health inequity and improving access to care for under-served populations. While researchers work to unlock life-saving discoveries and develop new approaches to pressing health issues, advancements in technology can help accelerate and scale new solutions.”

Microsoft announced a number of partners and projects with the launch of AI for Health: addressing Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) with researchers at Seattle Children’s Research Institute; eliminating leprosy with the Novartis Foundation; preventing diabetic retinopathy-driven blindness with intelligent retinal imaging systems; supporting regional research collaboration with the Cascadia Data Discovery Institute; connecting rural communities with health services with the Bangladesh-based humanitarian organization BRAC; and working with the international health equity organization PATH to improve diagnoses in under-served communities. 

“Technology can help … in cases such as SIDS, where it is tough for organizations to invest in research given the size of the affected population, but there are huge knock-on effects to better understand and mitigate against general infant death,” Kahan explained.

Of course, Microsoft is also aware of the privacy concerns that come with implementing AI in healthcare. “We recognize there must be a balance between privacy and innovation,” Kahan said. “Therefore, we are working hard to deliver advanced privacy technologies based on the work Microsoft and academic researchers invented years ago, called differential privacy, which makes it possible to extract useful insights from datasets while guaranteeing the privacy of individuals.”

AI for Health is the fifth program under Microsoft’s $165 million “AI for Good” umbrella, which otherwise is comprised of AI for Earth, AI for Accessibility, AI for Humanitarian Action and AI for Cultural Heritage. 

“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,” Kahan said. “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.”

To learn more about Microsoft's AI for Health program, visit its web portal here.

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