Health IT

Google, virtual reality, AI and healthcare: A perfect equation

During a HITLAB live streamed discussion at Columbia University Medical Center, Olivier Rabenschlag, head of creative at Google, discussed how the tech giant is impacting the healthcare space.

AI, machine learning

“I’m personally excited about healthcare because I’m obsessed with trying to do something for the greater good in this world, and it starts with the human species.”

With these words, Olivier Rabenschlag, head of creative at Google, discussed why healthcare is different from the other industries he’s worked in throughout his career. Although he’s spent time in the world of advertising, he explained why he’s more passionate about healthcare.

“[Healthcare] is more challenging. It is also more rewarding if you end up coming up with a solution,” he said during a HITLAB live streamed discussion at Columbia University Medical Center on April 13.

In his time at Google, Rabenschlag has already started to see some of these solutions happen. For example, Google Cardboard  a virtual reality headset that costs about $15 — made headlines last year when it saved a baby’s life in Florida, according to CNN. As Rabenschlag pointed out, the child was born without a lung and with a piece of her heart missing. Though the surgeons at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital wanted to view the baby’s heart and lungs in three dimensions, their 3-D printer was broken. Instead, they resorted to Google Cardboard. “Through an existing app they found, they managed to convert all those images into VR-compatible imagery that allowed the team of surgeons to look at the child’s heart through Google Carboard,” Rabenschlag said. The surgeons then performed a successful surgery and the baby survived.

And Google isn’t only making its mark in the virtual reality space. Rabenschlag also touched on how the tech giant is placing a bet on “machine learning and AI, making things a lot smarter and seamless and moving more into predictive models than reactive models.”

These technologies, combined with what Verily is doing, could have the potential to impact health around the globe, Rabenschlag said. Verily, which Rabenschlag described as the “healthcare specialist for the whole Alphabet organization,” is working on a project called Debug. Via Debug, researchers are finding ways to rear and release sterile mosquitoes in an effort to reduce virus-spreading mosquitoes and eradicate diseases. “Verily is all about trying to move from reactive healthcare to proactive healthcare,” Rabenschlag said.

On a larger scale, Rabenschlag is hopeful about what the future of voice technology holds. “Voice technology represents a two-way conversation, and I think a two-way conversation is vital for consultations or discussions around healthcare,” he said. “It’s all about being able to facilitate a dialogue.”

But Google is taking the voice technology concept one step further with Google Expeditions, through which people can use Google Cardboard to have a 360-degree view of a space or location. “When you think about what that would mean for a patient to be able to talk to a doctor almost seemingly live is groundbreaking,” Rabenschlag said. “I think voice, but also sight, sound and motion together through VR is pretty fundamental if we can crack it.”

Photo: ANDRZEJ WOJCICKI, Getty Images