Can machines really tell us if we’re sick?

This week US scientists announced they have developed an algorithm to identify skin cancers through analysis of photographs.

Rather than relying on human eyes, the new method scans a photo of a patch of skin to look for common and dangerous forms of skin cancer. The authors report their approach performs on par with board-certified dermatologists to distinguish two forms of cancer, keratinocyte carcinoma and malignant melanoma, from benign skin lesions.

The skin cancer diagnostic tool is based on a powerful type of machine learning that extracts information from images. The critical factor in achieving the accuracy and reliability required for a medical diagnostic tool is the large volume of training data the authors have used. This data consists of 129,450 skin images, and a label for each which indicates whether it contains a cancerous region. The machine is trained on this data to make the distinction automatically.

The Conversation 27/01/17