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The Wall Street Journal reports that Google "is testing an artificial-intelligence program trained to expertly answer medical questions, racing against rivals including Microsoft to translate recent AI advances into products that would be used widely by clinicians."

According to the story, "Google is betting that its medical chatbot technology, which is called Med-PaLM 2, will be better at holding conversations on healthcare issues than more general-purpose algorithms because it has been fed questions and answers from medical licensing exams. The company began testing the system with customers including the research hospital Mayo Clinic in April, said people familiar with the matter. 

"Med-PaLM 2 can be used to generate responses to medical questions and perform tasks such as summarizing documents or organizing reams of health data, according to Google executives and research published by the company."

The Journal points out that "medical leaders and ethicists said that while generative AI could be transformative for medicine, patients must be told about any new ways their health data is being used, and new tools must be evaluated as they are rolled out."  At the same time, "The healthcare industry has become a new front in the battle between big tech companies and smaller startups to win customers with AI offerings, though past efforts such as IBM’s Watson Health initiative have sometimes struggled to translate the technology into lasting profits."

KC's View:

So many retailers are investing in ways that they hope will give them a significant - and profitable - footprint in the healthcare business that I cannot help but think that the availability of this kind of AI will enhance their ability to deliver on their value proposition.  Sure, there will be hiccups, but in the long run, as the technology evolves, this could be an enormously effective tool.

I am sometimes blown away by what's becoming possible in this sector.  The BBC had a story the other day about a new study suggesting that "smartwatches might help diagnose Parkinson's disease up to seven years ahead of symptoms … The UK Dementia Research Institute team at Cardiff University used artificial intelligence to analyse data from 103,712 smartwatch wearers.  And by tracking their speed of movement over a single week, between 2013 and 2016, they were able to predict which would go on to develop Parkinson's.

"It is hoped this could ultimately be used as a screening tool."

Figure that at some point, all these data points will be part of a truly smart continuum that is able to predict medical conditions, prescribe treatments and preventatives, and empower consumers/patients in new ways.  And retailers should be able to gently insert themselves in this continuum if they are nuanced and smart about it, willing to make the necessary commitments and investments (which are not always the same thing).