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A silicon wafer designed to sort particles found in bodily fluids for the purpose of early disease detection.

IBM’s research labs are already working on a chip that can diagnose a potentially fatal condition faster than the best lab in the country, a camera that can see so deeply into a pill it can tell if its molecular structure has more in common with a real or counterfeit tablet, and a system that can help identify if a patient has a mental illness just from the words they use.

More work have to be done before the systems are ready for rolling out commercially. The next few years could also see IBM using artificial intelligence and new analytical techniques to produce a ‘lab on a chip’ — a pocket-sized device that would be able to analyse a single drop of blood or other bodily fluid to find evidence of bacteria, viruses, or elements like proteins that could be indicative of an illness.

¬†Digital manufacturing and 3D printing type technologies can put sensors in custom designed probes, which would effectively do the analysis and tell the medical professionals what they’re looking for.Rather than having to wait days or weeks after a blood test for a virus to be cultured enough for it to be identified, these tiny labs on a chip could pick up the smallest traces of the organism.

Perhaps its greatest use, however, could be allowing people to know about health conditions before any symptoms begin to show.

While analyzing the contents of a drop of blood at a nanoscale level will need huge AI processing power, the real challenge for IBM in bringing labs on a chip to market is in the silicon. Mental health, however, is one area where artificial intelligence will chew up vast quantities of data and turn it into useful information for clinicians. Over the next two years, IBM will be creating a prototype of a machine learning system that can help mental health professionals diagnose patients just from the content of their speech.

Speech is already one of the key components that doctors and psychiatrists will use to detect the onset of mental illness, checking for signs including the rate, volume, and choice of words. Now, IBM is hoping that artificial intelligence can do the same, by analyzing what a patient says or writes — from their consultations with a doctor or the content of their Twitter feeds.

IBM already has form with such tools: one of the first commercial uses of Watson, Big Blue’s cognitive computing system, was as a doctor’s assistant for cancer care. Now the company is working with hospitals and other partners to build prototypes for other cognitive tools in healthcare. IBM hopes using machine learning will make the process faster and give an additional layer of insight.

 

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