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Google's DeepMind forms health unit to build medical software

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Google’s DeepMind Technologies Ltd., an artificial intelligence company owned by the Web-search provider, is pushing into medical technology as it seeks to apply its expertise to health care.

DeepMind has built a reputation for creating cutting-edge self-learning software and is pitting its technology against the world’s best player of Go, a complex board game played in Asia, in a match next month.

The London-based subsidiary has teamed up with the Imperial College London and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust through an endeavor called DeepMind Health, it said Wednesday. The new division of about 15 people will grow “substantially,” said Mustafa Suleyman, who co-founded DeepMind. The company has also hired two physicians to work within its organization to help guide research and development.

One of those doctors is Dominic King, co-creator of the technology behind Hark, a U.K. health-care startup that is being bought by DeepMind as part of its push into medical technology. Hark has created a task-management smartphone application for clinicians.

“At the moment we’re focused on building trust with clinicians and designing stuff hand-in-hand with doctors and nurses,” Suleyman said. Eventually, DeepMind wants to bring its machine-learning technology to health care.

DeepMind Health built a piece of software called Streams, which lets clinicians view medical results faster, in a pilot project with the Royal Free Hospital. Chris Laing, associate medical director for patient safety at the hospital, said Streams lets him view blood-test results of patients at risk of acute kidney injury within seconds, and was able to improve patient care. “This system of direct alerts and the ability to prioritize patients was just not possible previously,” Laing said.

The collaboration is part of a larger push by Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent, into health technology and research. The Mountain View, California-based company also operates a life-sciences research group called Verily and has backed an anti-aging company called Calico, while Google itself conducts basic scientific research. It has also built a dedicated cloud computing system for use by U.K.-based health-care organizations, separate from Google’s main infrastructure.

“The ambition of DeepMind Health in the long term is to deliver tools that clinicians can use to make sense of the huge inflows of information that they’re overwhelmed by,” Suleyman said.

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