"Alexa, do I look fat in this?" Healthcare uses of Amazon's growing voice enabled product family

April 28, 2017

By Bill Evans, SVP Innovation

Amazon launched another member of the Echo family this week that might well have some interesting healthcare applications. Alexa is getting smarter, and Amazon is making it progressively easier to integrate their artificial intelligence (AI) tools into anyone else’s products. This week’s launch of the Echo Look, which is an Alexa enabled camera, may well raise a smile from those of us used to Saturday Night Live spoof TV commercials, but no, it’s not SNL. This product is for real. Shown in this promo video giving women advice about how they look in their clothing outfits, it uses the AI natural language processing abilities of Alexa to let users vocally self-direct photo and video shoots and then analyses their wardrobe choices to offer advice. Not stated in the video, but of course highly likely, Alexa will make shopping suggestions and, just like any loving husband, will duck the question posed in the title of this blog post.

We’ve seen a growing need for AI in our clients’ medical devices. There’s an excitement about being able to have a more natural user interface for things like helping a patient manage a chronic disease, with friendlier prompts that relate to the patient’s individual context at that moment. In fact, at the recent AdvaMed Digital Health conference that included a MedTech Innovator Start-Up pitch day (co-sponsored by Ximedica), half of the eight companies pitching were using some kind of AI such as Chatbots and Deep Learning for decision support. The conference itself had some heavy hitting panels citing actual uses today of AI tools, often collectively referred to as Cognitive Technologies.

While this might feel like science fiction for healthcare, one can’t help being reminded of how far-fetched “self-driving” vehicles felt just five years ago. Now they regularly drive themselves around my San Francisco neighborhood.

Fast forward just a few years and imagine the uses for an inexpensive, sophisticated, AI-supported camera and vocal interface. Perhaps Physical Therapy after a knee replacement will go like this: you do an initial session with a person and then are supported at home by doing the therapy in front of a camera that offers helpful tips about your specific actions. In the background, it’s monitoring your adherence. If it notices you’ve missed a few sessions (potentially slowing your recovery), it uses the latest techniques from behavioral psychology, again specifically tailored to you via AI assistance, to gently cajole you into a speedier recovery.

These advances are all powered by AI tools developed by deep-pocketed players like Amazon, Google, IBM Watson, and Apple, who’ll offer easy software integration tools so that any medical manufacturer can realistically consider incorporating them into their overall offering. After all, it’s becoming more about the ecosystem you can build around your medical product, rather than about the product itself. This collaborative approach creates an ideal trinity of an overall lower cost for the healthcare system, a better outcome for the patient, and a more loyal, growing customer base.

So perhaps, instead of the headline above, our healthcare version will be, “Alexa, help me become less fat.”