AI: “I think it’s something we should be embracing”

SpaMedica medical director, Alex Silvester, outlined the implications of artificial intelligence technology for eye care at 100% Optical


Alex Silvester, of SpaMedica, provided an overview of the opportunities and challenges linked to artificial intelligence (AI) technology during his presentation Artificial intelligence in ophthalmology at 100% Optical (London ExCel, 23-25 April).

The medical director shared that AI is becoming integral to many aspects of daily life, from Google maps using an algorithm to show the user the quickest way home to Netflix predicting what films a viewer might like.

Silvester noted that by applying the technology within ophthalmology, researchers have used deep learning to predict a subject’s age, smoking status and cardiovascular risk from fundus images.

“I think that’s exciting – there are opportunities there,” Silvester emphasised.

He shared his view that artificial intelligence technology will help the global economy.

“It’s the biggest commercial opportunity in today’s fast paced world,” Silvester said, adding that the UK now has an Office for Artificial Intelligence.

“Is this the next space race? Yes, I think it might be,” he observed.

Silvester shared his view that healthcare has lagged behind other sectors when it comes to adopting AI, with the possibility that ethical issues have affected its uptake in this field.

As the largest provider of cataract surgery in the UK, Silvester noted the potential for SpaMedica to apply AI to patient data in order to improve patient care.

Silvester added that research from the Lancet found that patients from areas of high deprivation presented for cataract surgery later than those in areas of low deprivation.

Within ophthalmology, artificial intelligence has been trained to identify malignant eye tumours on eyelids – performing the task better than trainee doctors and general practitioners, and at a level equal to surgeons.

Silvester noted that a clinician who is not sure about the management of a patient could take a picture and run an algorithm on the image.

“As a screening tool, AI is really useful,” he said.

SpaMedica is currently working with the University of Manchester to develop an artificial intelligence algorithm for identifying cataracts.

Silvester shared his hope that AI could one day improve cataract outcomes.

He predicted that that AI will be used within healthcare to triage patients and assist clinicians – rather than make the role of trained workers redundant.

“I think it’s something that we should be embracing. It’s not going to replace our workforce. AI is there to supplement and support,” he emphasised.