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How AI doctors can save patients’ lives

Image: Project Emerge
An AI-enabled system called Project Emerge helps health-care providers head off medical errors. (Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine via YouTube)

Someday soon, your physician may be second-guessed by an artificial intelligence program – and you’ll probably be healthier for it, according to Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz.

Horvitz, a research fellow and managing director of Microsoft Research’s lab in Redmond, Wash., laid out the statistics to support second-opinion software during today’s White House workshop on how AI can bring social benefits.

The workshop in Washington, D.C., was the second in a series of four sessions aimed at helping the Office of Science and Technology Policy formulate future initiatives on artificial intelligence.

Microsoft Research is pursuing projects in more than 60 areas of computer science, including AI, but Horvitz focused on two projects in particular that brought AI tools to bear on health care challenges.

One project targets medical errors, which Horvitz said are thought to cause more than 400,000 deaths annually in the United States.

“It’s kind of like a city the size of Oakland or Miami going away quietly every year, due to avoidable deaths,” Horvitz said. “It’s the third-leading cause of death in the United States.” (Heart disease and cancer are No. 1 and No. 2.)

Microsoft has been working with partners including the Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality to develop software that scans for potential medical errors. Horvitz said such programs can serve as “safety nets” for health care providers.

“You learn to recognize anomalies,” he said. “You learn to recognize acts of omission and commission and flag them.”

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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