Microsoft launches the $40M, five-year AI for Health program

The program aims to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world.

AI for Health

Microsoft has launched AI for Health, a new $40 million, five-year program to empower researchers and organizations with AI to improve the health of people and communities around the world. The program was developed in collaboration with leading health experts who are “driving important medical initiatives.” It is the fifth Microsoft “AI for Good” program, a $165 million initiative to empower researchers, nonprofits and organizations with advanced technologies to help unlock solutions to the biggest challenges facing society today.

The AI for Health initiative will focus on three key areas:

  • Quest for discovery – accelerating medical research to advance prevention, diagnosis and treatment of diseases.
  • Global health insights – increasing our shared understanding of mortality and longevity to protect against global health crises.
  • Health equity – reducing health inequity and improving access to care for underserved populations.

AI for Health is a philanthropic initiative that complements Microsoft’s broader work in the healthcare space. Through the new program, the Redmond-giant will support specific nonprofits and academic collaboration with Microsoft’s leading data scientists, access to best-in-class AI tools and cloud computing, and select cash grants.

Technology can help make the world a better place, and in that sense – Microsoft is pointing to an example in which technology was used to help scale screenings for diabetic retinopathy — an issue facing 463 million people — to expand the reach of ophthalmologists, as there are only 210,000 in the world. Or in a case such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), where it is tough for organizations to invest in research given the size of the affected population, but there are huge knock-on effects to better understand and mitigate against general infant death.

The problem, however, is that AI talent is disproportionately concentrated in the tech industry. In fact, more than 50% of AI professionals work in tech, and less than 5% are operating within the health and nonprofit sectors. As a result, medical researchers are hampered due to AI talent shortages worldwide.

Therefore, Microsoft wants to help out by making the new AI for Health program operating via collaborations that leverage the company’s best AI tools and technical expertise to further quests for medical discovery, uncover global health insights and increase health equity across underserved populations. Some of the current projects include:

  • Strengthening our medical understanding of the causes and diagnosis of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), in collaboration with Seattle Children’s Research Institute
  • Working with the Novartis Foundation to accelerate efforts to eliminate leprosy by focusing on interventions that aim to interrupt transmission
  • Deploying for use in primary care end-to-end diabetic retinopathy diagnostic software, developed in partnership with Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems (IRIS), that can help curb preventable blindness
  • Exploring new ways to unlock cross-organizational access to information that can lead to breakthroughs in research by working with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Cascadia Data Discovery Initiative to accelerate new avenues to prevent and treat cancer

Microsoft is also deepening its explorative partnerships with three leading nonprofits — BRAC, PATH and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — to propel additional advancements in the important fields of maternal mortality, tuberculosis treatment and pediatric cancer.