Software that can analyse medical data and diagnose conditions is coming. Could it do better than a doctor?

Diagnosis without doctors: Deep learning to transform medicine

Open to misinterpretation (Image: Mehmed Zelkovic/Getty)

IT’S a case of diagnosis without doctors. Software could soon be working out what’s wrong with you based only on medical data.

Machines have already transformed healthcare. MRI scanners can peer inside the body, for example, and blood samples are analysed automatically, but human skill has always been an integral part of the process: a scan reveals a shadow – the oncologist recognises its significance. But doctors are often busy and overworked; they can make mistakes or overlook telltale symptoms. If computers could understand health on their own terms, perhaps they could speed up diagnosis and even make it more accurate.

Central to the new approach are advances in machine learning – the way software can be trained to recognise important features in an image, for example. It’s a powerful tool, but generally the software requires a lot of virtual hand-holding …

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