New Western program brings machine learning to the bedside

Western University is launching its first specialization in machine learning in hopes of driving a monumental transformation in healthcare over the next decade.

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Western University is launching its first specialization in machine learning in hopes of driving a monumental transformation in healthcare over the next decade.

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“Data is the new oil of health and biomedical sciences,” said program co-developer and host Jörn Diedrichsen, a computer science and statistics professor who also studies movement neuroscience through Western’s Brain. and Mind Institute. “This is going to revolutionize healthcare over the next 10 years.”

Artificial intelligence belongs to the same field as machine learning, but with slightly different connotations, he said.

The new Health and Biomedical Sciences program will be studied by master’s and doctoral students with a degree in computer science, health, engineering or medicine.

“The technology is primarily there (to) use algorithms to support medical decision-making,” Diedrichsen said. “For example, there is a lot of research on detecting abnormalities caused by imaging. We have algorithms that can do this more sensitively than a radiographer or a radiologist.

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“It’s basically (putting) the vast amount of data that we have right now … to use, not just for scientific purposes, but also for making decisions.

For example, when Amazon displays online ads “tailored to you,” that’s artificial intelligence or machine learning at work, Diedrichsen said.

“In the field of health, it happens all the time, it is already deeply rooted in our society,” he says.

Western’s specialization, the only one of its kind in Ontario, is part of a larger initiative that includes 700 to 1,000 master’s students across Canada.

It joins 26 other master’s degree programs recognized by the federally funded Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, a nonprofit group dedicated to expanding the AI ​​sector in Canada, Diedrichsen said.

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“It’s quite a Canadian success story – (Ottawa) has decided this is something we need to invest in,” he said. “There are other AI programs, but we’re the only program doing machine learning specifically to help biomedical science.”

Given Western’s strong hospital and neuroscience program, collaboration between computer science and engineering was “natural for us,” Diedrichsen said.

“It’s not that the computer replaces a human, but it helps in decision-making,” he said. “We’ve seen during the COVID pandemic, tracking COVID infections and modeling, it can really inform health decision-making.”

Another example, Diedrichsen said, is using algorithms to analyze how people speak to predict a potential for onset of dementia or depression.

“Because there’s so much data available, we can help people make better health choices and improve diagnoses and . . . improve intervention,” he said. is that it’s very difficult to navigate data privacy and other ethical things.

“But we will have it.”

Prevention is much better than dealing with people in the emergency room, Diedrichsen said.


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Sherry J. Basler