Google takes over DeepMind’s health business

The move will mostly affect DeepMind's Streams app, which will exist under the Google umbrella

Photo: DeepMind

As part of an ongoing reorganisation of its health care efforts, Google has announced that it will take over DeepMind Health, a part of its London-based AI lab DeepMind. From now on DeepMind's health unit will exist under the Google umbrella and it will be part of the company's newly-formed health subsidiary Google Health initiative. More specifically, the change will affect DeepMind's Streams app, which physicians in the UK have used to help treat their patients, since it will be moving over to Google, and the Google Health team will be working on expanding the app to more regions.

In a blog post on Tuesday, DeepMind’s founders described as a “major milestone” the transformation of their Streams app into “an AI-powered assistant for nurses and doctors”, which combines “the best algorithms with intuitive design.” Currently, the Streams app is being piloted in the UK as a way to help health care practitioners manage patients. In its statement DeepMind also added that its Streams team will remain in London and that it’s committed to carrying out ongoing work with the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). These include a number of ambitious research projects, such as using AI to spot eye disease in routine scans and developing systems that can help doctors plan cancer radiotherapy treatments more quickly.

As The Verge states, the news is potentially controversial given the upset in the UK caused by one of DeepMind’s early deals with the NHS. The country’s data watchdogs ruled in 2017 that a partnership DeepMind struck with the NHS was illegal, as individuals hadn’t been properly informed about how their medical data would be used. Another consistent worry for privacy advocates in the UK has been the prospect of Google getting its hands on this sort of information. It’s not clear what the absorption of the Streams team into Google means in that context, but according to a report from CNBC, the independent review board DeepMind set up to oversee its health work will likely be shut down.

More broadly speaking, the news clearly signals Google’s ambitions in health care and its desire to get the most of its acquisition of the London AI lab. There have reportedly been long-standing tensions between DeepMind and Google, with the latter wanting to commercialize the former’s work. Compared to Google, DeepMind has positioned itself as a cerebral home for long-sighted research, attracting some of the world’s best AI talent in the process.

DeepMind Health has produced work with more immediate and practical applications than other parts of the company, which likely made it a tempting target for the new CEO of Google Health, David Feinberg, who was appointed last week. Feinberg’s new mandate is to restructure all of Google’s disparate bets in health, from hardware to algorithms. Apparently, that also includes absorbing other parts of Alphabet if necessary.

Similar articles