Some positive AI news, and a Happy Birthday to Google!

By | October 2, 2023

On Wednesday, the tech giant Google turned 25 years old!  So I thought I’d share some interesting tidbits about Google and some tips for getting better search results.

Google was started by two college students in the US, who were originally planning to call it “Backrub” (goodness knows why).  Thankfully they changed their minds, and decided to base their name on “Googol”, which is a mathematical term used to represent a very large number.  The idea being that when you use their search engine, you get a very large number of results.

But sometimes, having a large number of results can be confusing or unhelpful.  So how can you make sure that your search results are useful and relevant?

Well, if you need to look up a particular phrase, you can put quote marks around it, so that Google only shows results that contain the full phrase, rather than all results that contain any of the words in that phrase. For example if you were trying to remember the lyrics of your favourite Rick Astley song, you might type in “we know the game and we’re gonna play it” to see if Google could tell you the rest of it.

Or if you want to avoid certain results, you can put a dash (without a space) in front of a word that you don’t want to be included.  So if you’re searching for a book that’s recently been released as a film, you might not want to get results about the film, so you’d type in “A Haunting in Venice -film”.  This doesn’t always exclude adverts with those search terms, but the ads are pretty clearly marked, so you know to ignore them.

Or if you want to only get results from a certain time period – let’s say if you wanted to know how many gold medals Team GB have won since you were born.  You can put in “before:1960” or “after:1940” to only get results from before or after that year.

And now, finally something positive about AI!

An artificial intelligence program (AI for short) was recently used in a medical study to analyse scans of people’s eyes, to look for early signs of Parkinson’s disease.  So the doctors took a series of eye scans over several years, from a series of patients (some of whom would get Parkinson’s disease later on, and some who didn’t), and ran these scans through the AI program.  The AI found that patients who would later develop Parkinson’s had physical differences in their eyes from the other patients.

It found that certain retinal layers in the eyes of Parkinson’s patients were much thinner than those in patients without the disease.  And most importantly, the AI could spot these differences in scans that were taken up to seven years before the patients showed any Parkinson’s symptoms.  I think that’s pretty impressive, personally!

The hope is that doctors can use the AI as a pre-screening tool to check for early signs of the condition.  The exact details of how it all works is a bit beyond me, but if you’re interested you can have a read about AI being used in eye disease research.

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