Google uses AI project to screen for diabetic eye disease in Thailand

Google (GOOGL.O) has launched an Artificial Intelligence (AI) programme in Thailand to screen for diabetic eye disease which causes permanent blindness.

The eye screening programme in Thailand follows similar Google programme in India and highlights a push by big tech companies to show the social benefits of new AI technologies.

Kent Walker, the company’s Senior Vice President for Global Affairs,  said in speech at a Google event in Bangkok that “as a society, we have the responsibility to use AI in the best possible way.”

The event also highlighted other social benefits of Google’s AI projects, such as stopping illegal fishing in Indonesia.

Google’s Thailand diabetes programme was announced in partnership with a Thai state-run Rajavithi Hospital.

This followed a joint-study which found the AI programme to have an accuracy rate of 95 per cent when it comes to disease detection, compared with 74 per cent from opticians or eye doctors.

The programme analyses patients’ eye screen results to assess if they are at a risk of vision loss, which will enable them to have preemptive treatment.

Thailand is one of the world’s most important sugar producers and high sugar consumption is common among its 69 million population.

The Thai government had been campaigning against behaviours that could lead to diabetes and had made diabetic eye screening one of the country’s national health indicators since 2015.

Meanwhile, Paisan Ruamviboonsuk, Ravajithi Hospital’s Assistant Director, said “Thailand has only around 1,400 eye doctors for its five million diabetic patients, who are all at risk of vision loss.”

Paisan said the programme was intended to achieve nationwide eye screening rate of 60 per cent, which is also the Thai government’s target.

In October, Google said it would grant about 25 million dollars globally in 2019 to humanitarian and environmental projects seeking to use AI for good.