Brain scan

An AI for an eye

A pioneering ophthalmologist highlights the potential, and the pitfalls, of medical AI

THE BOOKS strewn around Pearse Keane’s office at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London are an unusual selection for a medic. “The Information”, a 500-page doorstop by James Gleick on the mathematical roots of computer science, sits next to Neal Stephenson’s even heftier “Cryptonomicon”, an alt-history novel full of cryptography and prime numbers. Nearby is “The Player of Games” by the late Iain M. Banks, whose sci-fi novels describe a utopian civilisation in which AI has abolished work.

Dr Keane is an ophthalmologist by training. But “if I could have taken a year or two from my medical training to do a computer-science degree, I would have,” he says. These days he is closer to the subject than any university student. In 2016 he began a collaboration with DeepMind, an AI firm owned by Google, to apply AI to ophthalmology.

In Britain the number of ophthalmologists is not keeping up with the falling cost of eye scans (about £20, or $25, from high-street opticians) and growing demand from an ageing…