AI Talk: Medical AI devices, Amazon Salon and vertical farming

April 30, 2021 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

Medical AI Devices Evaluation

This month in Nature, Stanford University researchers published a constructive criticism on how AI medical devices are reviewed, evaluated and approved for public use. First, the researchers curated a dataset of all FDA approvals that were related to the use of AI algorithms. Their analysis of 130 such devices showed that the majority did not employ multi-site evaluations. Furthermore, the vast majority utilized only retrospective studies for the evaluation process. Both approaches are problematic.

AI devices change the way clinicians practice and prospective side by side comparisons are needed to study the efficacy of a device. Models trained on a single site perform poorly when deployed in environments that are completely different from the ones they were trained on. To underscore this latter point, the authors conducted and reported on a thorough study of how results degrade when deep learning models are trained on a single site and are then tested on other sites.

Single site vs. multiple site training is not just an academic issue, but a practical one. It is at the heart of all the controversies surrounding models which exhibit significant bias in their operations. Let’s hope the FDA takes the authors’ recommendations into consideration: prospective studies, post market surveillance, and multi-site evaluations of AI devices.

Amazon Salon

Many new services keep coming from Amazon, this one in the form of an experimental salon being opened in London for Amazon employees only. What’s new with this venture? Customers  wondering how they will look with a new hairstyle or color can see an augmented reality version of themselves donning the new ‘do on a Fire-tablet! Given that Amazon is always selling something, customers can also point to a hair care product, scan a QR code and get a marketing spiel (they call it “point-and-learn”) about what the product is. Then, with just a swipe, they can buy it and have it delivered to their home. What will they think of next?

Vertical Farming

There is a slow revolution brewing in the world of farming. Many of us have seen news about how farming has become high tech—from drones used for crop health surveillance or smart tech to monitor water use. I saw this article in Futurism which surprised and intrigued me with a simple statement: “Why grow plants horizontally when you can grow them vertically?”

I have heard of vertical farming; turns out it has been around for a decade now. The article pointed to a particular company, “Freight Farms,” which is shipping 320-square-foot containers (equivalent to 2.5 acres in terms of farming capacity). Their claim is that technology has helped the process become very efficient, enabling them to bring the price down for this equipment. You can grow over 500 different crops using only five gallons of water per day. This container can be plopped virtually anywhere, even on top of one another for more capacity;  the only requirement is a good supply of electricity and WiFi.  Perhaps charity organizations can install these in food deserts to help supply nutritional produce to the community? Perhaps these containers should be part of a new farming infrastructure contemplated by the current administration?

So, what do these containers cost? Turns out about $139,000 per container. This seems reasonable, considering the price of 2.5 acres of fertile land and the equipment and labor required to till and farm the land! The new slogan can be: “fresh organic produce, fast and local.”

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is Director of Research for 3M M*Modal and is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.

Listen to Juggy Jagannathan discuss AI on the ACDIS podcast.