Google is consolidating DeepMind's healthcare AI business under its new Google Health unit

DeepMindDeepMind founders Mustafa Suleyman, Demis Hassabis, and Shane Legg.
  • Google set up a new healthcare unit called Google Health last week, and appointed healthcare executive David Feinberg to lead it.
  • Google Health will fold in the healthcare arm from its British artificial intelligence lab DeepMind.
  • DeepMind’s healthcare unit produced Streams, an app to improve patient healthcare. But that app did not use AI.

Google is moving quickly to reorganise its efforts in healthcare, creating a new unit called Google Health and folding in the healthcare arm from its DeepMind AI subsidiary.

DeepMind Health will become part of Google Health. The reorganisation comes just four days after Google announced it was hiring big-name healthcare CEO David Feinberg to head up its healthcare initiatives.

The company’s founders, Mustafa Suleyman and Demis Hassabis,wrote in a blog post that the change was a “major milestone” for the unit, and that it would mean DeepMind’s Streams app, which aims to improve patient care, would be put into practice. Notably, Streams is not itself AI-powered.

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The founders wrote wrote: “It’s been a phenomenal journey to see Streams go from initial idea to live deployment, and to hear how it’s helped change the lives of patients and the nurses and doctors who treat them.

“The arrival of world-leading health expert Dr. David Feinberg at Google will accelerate these efforts, helping to make a difference to the lives of millions of patients around the world.”

The move may cause some consternation.

Streams was at the centre of some controversy in 2017 when the UK’s data watchdog ruled that a British hospital hadn’t taken enough care when sharing patient data with DeepMind early in the app’s development. The watchdog did not stop DeepMind from continuing to use or develop Streams. But privacy campaigners worry that DeepMind’s ultimate parent firm Google, whose core business model relies on data, may try and suck up patient information to benefit its bottom line.

DeepMind had set up an independent board to probe its approach to privacy and its business model, in part to address those concerns. A spokeswoman confirmed the board was unlikely to continue after the consolidation.

Streams isn’t the only product from DeepMind’s healthcare team, which also has various research projects underway such as the use of artificial intelligence to detect eye disease, and planning cancer radiotherapy treatment. Suleyman said the team behind Streams would remain in London and report to the DeepMind health team’s clinical lead, Dominic King.

DeepMind said it was still committed to its existing partnerships and research projects with UK hospitals. “Information governance and safety remain our top priorities,” the founders wrote. “Patient data remains under our partners’ strict control, and all decisions about its use will continue to lie with them.”

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