The health of people and communities around the world has been improving over time. For example, the steep decline in child and maternal mortality is a key indicator of positive momentum.
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 underserved 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.
That is why we are launching AI for Health, a new $40 million, five-year program to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. The program is underpinned with a strong foundation of privacy, security and ethics, and was developed in collaboration with leading health experts who are driving important medical initiatives. AI for Health is the fifth Microsoft AI for Good program, a $165 million initiative to empower researchers, nonprofits and organizations with advanced technologies to help unlock solutions to the biggest challenges facing society today.
The AI for Health initiative will focus on three key areas:
- Quest for discovery. Accelerating medical research to advance prevention, diagnoses and treatment of diseases
- Global health insights. Increasing our shared understanding of mortality and longevity to protect against global health crises
- Health equity. Reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations
AI for Health is a philanthropic initiative that complements our broader work in Microsoft Healthcare. Through AI for Health, we will support specific nonprofits and academic collaboration with Microsoft’s leading data scientists, access to best-in-class AI tools and cloud computing, and select cash grants.
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. 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.
The Role of AI in Health
Over the last 30 years, health professionals around the world have reduced the number of annual child and maternal deaths by half. This monumental achievement demonstrates that great progress can be made when the global health community works together to create positive change, but we have an opportunity go further, to accelerate research and scale new solutions. This is where AI for Health can help.
While great progress has been made in reducing child and maternal mortality, these improvements have not been equal across the globe. For example, Finland’s child mortality rate is 43.7 compared to Somalia’s at 1,899.2 per 100,000 live births, and the U.S. maternal mortality rate is 29.9 compared to Chad’s at 383.3 per 100,000 live births. Even in countries such as the U.S. that have made great progress in reducing child mortality, the probability of a child surviving to their fifth birthday depends heavily on the zip code where that child was born and varies dramatically by demographics.
There are real health issues in which AI can play an important role, and it may be our best option to accelerate research or expand the reach of new solutions, especially in areas that may lack attention from the commercial health sector.
For example, technology can help scale screenings for diabetic retinopathy – an issue facing 463 million people – to expand the reach of ophthalmologists, as there are only 210,000 in the world. Or in cases such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (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.
But to truly make an impact, we need to make sure that medical experts and researchers have access to the best technical talent possible, people who can provide their expertise to get the most value out of technology. Currently, AI talent is disproportionately concentrated in the tech industry.
More than 50% of AI professionals work in tech, and less than 5% are operating within the health and nonprofit sectors. As a result, medical researchers are hampered due to AI talent shortages worldwide.
To succeed, we recognize there must be a balance between privacy and innovation. 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. This is being undertaken in collaboration with Microsoft and Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science.
At Microsoft and across the tech industry, we also have a responsibility to ensure that new technology is human-centered and developed in a manner consistent with broadly held societal values. We are taking a principled and transparent approach to the development of technology, and we are hopeful the world will see what a compelling force for good AI can be when it’s used responsibly in partnership with innovative organizations.
Microsoft has a unique opportunity to extend its contribution to the world by dedicating data science expertise, technology and resources to help solve pressing health issues. The AI for Health program will operate via collaborations that leverage our best AI tools and technical expertise from Microsoft to further quests for medical discovery, uncover global health insights and increase health equity across underserved populations. A handful of our current projects include:
- Strengthening our medical understanding of the causes and diagnosis of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), in collaboration with Seattle Children’s Research Institute
- Working with the Novartis Foundation to accelerate efforts to eliminate leprosy by focusing on interventions that aim to interrupt transmission
- Deploying for use in primary care end-to-end diabetic retinopathy diagnostic software, developed in partnership with Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems (IRIS), that can help curb preventable blindness
- Exploring new ways to unlock cross-organizational access to information that can lead to breakthroughs in research by working with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative to accelerate new avenues to prevent and treat cancer
We are also deepening our explorative partnerships with three leading nonprofits – BRAC, PATH and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital – to propel additional advancements in the important fields of maternal mortality, tuberculosis treatment and pediatric cancer.
You can explore the below Power BI, an interactive visual analysis of global health information.
We look forward to working with researchers, academics, nonprofits, health industry professionals and policymakers around the world as we accelerate research and insights, such as the work we have undertaken in the SIDS space to improve data quality and collection with the Scarlett’s Sunshine on Unexpected Death Act. Together, we can improve the health of people and communities globally.