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Google looks at artificial intelligence to treat eye conditions

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(Bloomberg) — Google and the U.K.’s government health service have partnered to study whether computers can be trained to spot degenerative eye problems early enough to prevent blindness.

Google DeepMind, the London-based artificial intelligence unit owned by Alphabet Inc., announced a research partnership today with the National Health Service to gain access to a million anonymous eye scans. DeepMind will use the data to train its computers to identify eye defects. The aim is to give doctors a digital tool that can read an eye-scan test and recognize problems faster.

Earlier detection of eye disorders related to diabetes and age-related macular degeneration could allow doctors to prevent loss of vision in many people, according to a statement by DeepMind Tuesday announcing the project with the Moorfields Eye Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

Google acquired DeepMind in 2014 to expand its artificial intelligence capabilities. Co-founded by child chess prodigy Demis Hassabis, the firm specializes in machine learning, the increasingly important area of technology where algorithms allow computers to learn and figure things out on their own. DeepMind has taught computers how to defeat a champion of the complex strategy game Go and play Atari’s classic 1970s video game “Space Invaders.”

Separately, DeepMind has announced the creation of a health care review board to scrutinize its work with the NHS. The nine-member panel includes a patient safety advocate, the editor of The Lancet medical journal, and others with health and technology backgrounds. DeepMind’s relationship with the NHS has been criticized by some privacy advocates who worry the data will be used for other purposes besides medical advances. DeepMind has said it will only be for health care purposes.

The announcement of the Moorfields Eye Hospital collaboration is DeepMind’s second partnership with the NHS. Another project uses a smartphone app to allow doctors to more quickly view medical results related to kidney function.