Chinese search engine company Baidu is announcing today the release of Melody, a chatbot powered by artificial intelligence (A.I.) that lives inside the existing Baidu Doctor app for Android and iOS. This app collects medical information from people and then passes it to doctors in a form that makes it easier to use for diagnostic purposes or to otherwise respond to.
For now, the chatbot only communicates in and understands Chinese and is only available to patients and doctors in China. The app that Melody is placed in lets users ask medical questions and make appointments to meet with their doctors. Melody goes one step further; it reduces the amount of time patients and doctors have to spend exchanging basic information. The chatbot only sends responses on behalf of doctors after having those doctors verify the information.
“It’s not our role to diagnose — it’s the doctors’ role to diagnose. We try to assist the doctors,” Baidu chief scientist Andrew Ng told VentureBeat in an interview.
Melody employs a type of A.I. called deep learning — which involves training artificial neural networks on lots of labeled data and then making inferences about new data — to do what it does. And Ng is one of the most widely recognized figures in the field.
What’s more, Ng has a personal connection to health care. In the early 1990s, when Ng was still a boy, he saw his father, a doctor, trying to use A.I. to generate automated medical diagnoses. “I got into A.I. partially because of him,” Ng said. Now he’s hoping Melody will be able to help both doctors and patients.
Baidu taught Melody how to deal with patients’ chat messages using genuine online text conversations between doctors and patients. “There’s a ton of data,” Ng said.
But Baidu had great access to Chinese-language data, not necessarily data in every language, or even in the handful of other languages that the Baidu search engine is available in. “I don’t think we have an announcement to make right now about English-language products, but I guess there are other possibilities,” Ng said.