Artificial Intelligence might soon be used to detect illnesses in human breath

AI (Artificial Intelligence) may not just be limited to Siri and Alexa in our lives. Soon it will be able to achieve more than just driver-less cars. Researchers at Loughborough University, UK are in the process of developing an AI system which soon might be able to smell human breath and detect the presence of matter that reveals illnesses that one might be suffering with.

Andrea Soltoggio, Lecturer at Loughborough University explains in the research paper, that compared to other animals, humans do not have an extremely well-developed sense of smell. Therefore, they often fail to perceive disease-causing components that float in the air around them. Though there are devices like gas-chromatography mass-spectrometers (CG-MS)- which can detect very small amounts of substances present in the air, the whole procedure is often too long. The compounds are complex and are needed to be analyzed by experts- which is often cumbersome.

Andrea and his team are part of Loughborough’s data science team. They are developing an AI system using latest artificial intelligence technology to detect chemical compounds in human breath. They have created “deep learning networks”- special mathematical models influenced by the brain. These will detect the substances with the help of their odors.  For the research, experts at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre acquired breath samples from cancer patients undergoing treatment. The samples were further analyzed by computer scientists. The deep learning networks then inspected the breath samples again and again until it could observe a specific pattern for a specific compound. Andrea reported that this first study of the research focused especially on aldehydes- which can be linked to stress and other diseases.

Why is this technology any better than CG-MS you ask? Well, for one, it is not time-consuming. While human experts may take hours to detect the compounds, this AI system may achieve the same result in minutes. Additionally, the procedure has become cheaper. The results might even be more reliable. This will be a great help to the field of forensics, environmental studies, and oncology. The benefits and usefulness of the system certainly outweigh the ethical concerns that people have about the use of AI.  Tools like these do give us a hope that we might be able to use AI for a better future.

The research paper was first published on The Conversation UK by the Loughborough University on June 08, 2018.

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