Microsoft’s AI for Health initiative launched to support global health initiatives

Under its AI for Good program, Microsoft has launched a new US$40 million, five-year initiative called ‘AI for Health’ to tap on the power of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to advance the health of people and communities. This was announced in a global announcement on Wednesday, 29 January, 2020.

The new program is part of Microsoft’s broader AI for Good initiative, a US$165 million commitment to empower people and organizations working to create a positive impact on society that address the world’s toughest issues. The initiative includes AI for Accessibility, AI for Cultural Heritage, AI for Earth, AI for Health and AI for Humanitarian Action.

AI in healthcare is generally described as the use of complex algorithms and software to emulate human cognition in the analysis of complicated medical data. AI has been used in healthcare in areas such as diagnostics, robotic surgeries and virtual nursing assistants.

However, the usage of AI in healthcare has been hampered by issues such as researchers and healthcare organizations having limited access to tools to deploy AI and data science.

According to the company, less than 5% of the world’s AI professionals today work in health and nonprofit organizations. It is crucial to provide these mission-driven researchers with the tools they need to accelerate and expand their work, which Microsoft hopes to achieve under AI for Health.

“Artificial Intelligence has the potential to solve some of humanity’s greatest challenges, like improving the health of communities around the world,” said Brad Smith, President, Microsoft in announcing the initiative.

“We know that putting this powerful technology into the hands of experts tackling this problem can accelerate new solutions and improve access for underserved populations. That’s why we created AI for Health,” he added.

The AI for Health initiative will focus on three key areas; Firstly, ‘Quest for discovery’ which involves accelerating medical research to advance prevention, diagnoses and treatment of diseases. Secondly, ‘Global health insights’ would increase the shared understanding of mortality and longevity to protect against global health crises. Finally ‘Health equity’ would reduce the health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations.

In the long term, Microsoft hopes to leverage on its program to partner with selected organizations to help solve pressing health issues such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), eliminating leprosy and detecting diabetic retinopathy to prevent blindness.

Taking a more holistic approach, it will also work with collaborators to use advanced data analytics and AI to bridge the healthcare gap in specific underserved communities in regions such as Asia and Africa.

At present, some of the confirmed recipients of the fund include BRAC, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems (IRIS), Novartis Foundation, PATH, and Seattle Children’s Research Institute.

Technology is continually advancing and healthcare on the whole has benefited. AI, machine learning and cloud computing has been seen as an enabler towards finding the solutions for prevention and treatment of major healthcare concerns such as cancer and other chronic conditions.

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