London Lab Advances Use of A.I. in Health Care, but Raises Privacy Concerns

London Lab Advances Use of A.I. in Health Care, but Raises Privacy Concerns

SAN FRANCISCO — Each year, one out of every five patients admitted to a hospital in the United States for serious care develops acute kidney injury.

For a variety of reasons, these patients’ kidneys suddenly stop functioning normally and become unable to properly remove toxins from the blood stream. The condition can permanently damage the kidneys, cause other illnesses or even lead to death. Acute kidney disease, or A.K.I., contributes to nearly 300,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to a 2016 study.

But if the condition is identified in its early stages and properly treated, it can be stopped or reversed.

In a paper published on Wednesday in the science journal Nature, researchers from DeepMind, a London artificial intelligence lab owned by Google’s parent company, detail a system that can analyze a patient’s health records, including blood tests, vital signs and past medical history, and predict A.K.I. up to 48 hours before onset.

After the ruling that DeepMind had acquired medical data from the British National Health Service illegally, the lab’s use of that and other data has been closely watched. The data was not used in the company’s A.K.I. research, and it is unclear whether it will be transferred to Google.

Dominic King, who oversees DeepMind’s health unit, said the unit’s transfer to Google was pending as the company negotiated with various partners over how various data sets would be used. “Partners must give their permission for all that data to move over,” he said. “That is taking some time.”

In the past, DeepMind painted itself as a British operation that was mostly separate from Google’s global ambitions. Its position is now more complicated. And some critics question whether corporate whether labs like DeepMind are the right organizations to handle the development of technology with such broad implications for the general public.

“Other machine learning researchers can do this same work,” said Julia Powles, a professor of technology law and policy at the University of Western Australia whose research has focused on DeepMind’s use of health care data.

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