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Google's artificial intelligence can diagnose cancer faster than human doctors
Source: Jeff Parsons

Making the decision on whether or not a patient has cancer usually involves trained professionals meticulously scanning tissue samples over weeks and months.

But Google's artificial intelligence (AI) supercomputer DeepMind may be able to do it much, much faster.

The search company has been working with the NHS since September last year to help speed up cancer detection. The software can now tell the difference between healthy and cancerous tissue, as well as discover if metastasis has occured.

"Metastasis detection is currently performed by pathologists reviewing large expanses of biological tissues. This process is labour intensive and error-prone," explained Google in a white paper outlining the study.

"We present a framework to automatically detect and localise tumours as small as 100 ×100 pixels in gigapixel microscopy images sized 100,000×100,000 pixels.

"Our method leverages a convolutional neural network (CNN) architecture and obtains state-of-the-art results on the Camelyon16 dataset in the challenging lesion-level tumour detection task."

Such high-level image recognition was first developed for Google's driverless car programme, in order to help the vehicles scan for road obstructions.

Now the company has adapted it for the medical field and says it's more accurate than regular human doctors:

"At 8 false positives per image, we detect 92.4% of the tumours, relative to 82.7% by the previous best automated approach. For comparison, a human pathologist attempting exhaustive search achieved 73.2% sensitivity."

Despite this, it's unlikely to replace human pathologists just yet. The software only looks for one thing - cancerous tissue - and is not able to pick up any irregularities that a human doctor could spot.

DeepMind’s Mustafa Suleyman said: “This real-world application of artificial intelligence technology is exactly why we set up DeepMind.

"We hope this work could lead to real benefits for cancer patients across the country.”

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