Baidu launches a medical chatbot to help Chinese doctors diagnose patients

WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF

Melody could one day replace your GP – once it’s matured.

 

The doctor will see you now.

Chinese search engine company Baidu has announced the release of Melody – a chatbot powered by increasingly powerful artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities that lives inside the existing Baidu Doctor app for Android and iOS which is used to collect medical information from people and then pass it to doctors in a format that makes it easier, and faster to diagnose patients.

 

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For now the chatbot only communicates in and understands Chinese and it’s only available in China but there’s little doubt that when it matures there’ll be other language variants available.

Melody lets users ask medical questions and make doctors appointments and helps reduce the amount of time patients and doctors have to spend exchanging basic information and Melody only sends back the doctors answers once they’ve validated the information.

 

Melody in action

 

“It’s not our role to diagnose — it’s the doctors’ role to diagnose. We try to assist the doctors,” says Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng.

Melody uses deep learning to do what it does and Andrew Ng is one of the most widely recognised experts in the field and if you thought that Melody came to life through chance then think again –  Ng has a personal connection to health care. In the early 1990s he saw his father, a doctor, trying to use AI to generate automated medical diagnoses.

“I got into AI partially because of him,” Ng said and now he’s hoping Melody will be able to help both doctors and patients.

Baidu uses deep learning for many purposes, including speech recognition, object detection, and prediction of advertising click-through rates (CTRs) and is quickly becoming one of the world’s most recognised centers of AI research.

 

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Baidu taught Melody how to respond to patients’ chat messages by using reinforcement learning and training it with genuine online text conversations between doctors and patients.

“There’s a ton of data,” Ng said.

But Baidu had great access to Chinese-language data, not necessarily data in every language, or even in the handful of other languages that the Baidu search engine is available in.

“I don’t think we have an announcement to make right now about English-language products, but I guess there are other possibilities,” Ng said.

Meanwhile this is simply the start of the next healthcare revolution – bots powered by incredibly capable AI’s that act as a first line of contact for patients that one day will back into, or even spawn virtual doctors. So while melody looks innocent enough make no mistake that she’s a woman spearheading a revolution.

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