How Microsoft Is Using Artificial Intelligence to "Solve" Cancer

The company wants to help research, treat, and cure cancer.


Will we cure cancer using artificial intelligence? Microsoft is one of the growing number of major technology companies betting on it.

The company announced Monday the efforts of its various research labs that are using machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other computer science to help doctors research, diagnose, track, and potentially cure various types of cancer. Microsoft is effectively using artificial intelligence to solve a very human problem.

One team is helping oncologists use natural language processing to sift through cancer research. Another team helps radiologists use machine learning to monitor a tumor’s progress. Yet another has developed algorithms to devise treatment options for different types of cancer. Another team is working on “moonshot efforts” to “allow scientists to program cells to fight diseases, including cancer.”


Most of these efforts are enabled by other artificial intelligence research. Microsoft attempted to teach a chatbot how to speak earlier this year by using language processing, for example, while Google’s DeepMind research group teaches its artificial intelligence to predict diseases using patient data.

Microsoft, like Google DeepMind, isn’t trying to replace doctors. Rather the company is using its skill with artificial intelligence and cloud computing — which is necessary to perform the complicated science behind cancer research — so it can help doctors with research that might otherwise be out of their reach.

Those are part of broader efforts to use new technologies, like 3D printing or the ability to influence the body’s immune system, to help the millions of people fighting some kind of cancer.


In each case, doctors and their patients aren’t the only ones benefiting from these technological helpers. Microsoft explained on Monday that this research not only helps its own artificial intelligence and cloud computing efforts, but also helps the company prepare for the future of computing in general. “If the computers of the future are not going to be made just in silicon but might be made in living matter,” said Microsoft corporate vice president Jeannette Wing. “It behooves us to make sure we understand what it means to program on those computers.”

Call it a mutually beneficial arrangement. Microsoft and other companies try to help solve a medical mystery that could save countless lives, and in return they improve their computer systems and, potentially, learn how to use living cells as the computers of the future. That seems like a fair trade.

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