iPhones could be AI platform to transform healthcare, says Apple executive

While speaking about the future of the company, Jeff Williams, Apple COO, said that iPhones had the potential to become a platform for artificial intelligence (AI) and transform the healthcare industry.

Williams was asked about the future of the company at an event in Taiwan, hosted by partner chip manufacturer TSMC. According to Williams, Apple and TSMC have shipped half a billion microchips together in the past eleven months.

“When we look back a decade ago, the question we had was: do we have enough processing power in our silicon to match our ambitions?” Williams said. “The big challenge we had as we moved into the mobile revolution was this trade-off between performance and power, and the view at the time is you had to choose.”

“We have reached a point where those tradeoffs are not necessary. We have performance in thermally constrained environments. And so this opens up for the next decade a whole new world. So for the next decade […] I think the question for us is "Do we have the right ambitions to go utilize this technology in front of us?"

He said that Apple would look to artificial intelligence and on board processing in the near future, and that these technological advances could help advance many sectors, particularly healthcare.

“Probably one of the most significant examples of this is the opportunity to use transistor tech advances and power scaling to revolutionise healthcare,” he said. “We think the [healthcare] industry is ripe for change. We think there is tremendous potential to do on-device computing, to do cloud computing as well, and to take that learning through machine learning, deep learning and ultimately artificial intelligence, [to] change the way health[care] is delivered.”

In recent years, Apple has been exploring beyond its traditional market of high-end electronic devices, with projects such as “Project Titan”: its faltering self-driving car program.

Already, Apple has introduced three open-source frameworks intended to improve aspects of healthcare: HealthKit (2014) which allows developers to input and extract data from the Apple Health app, ResearchKit (2015) to assist medical researchers with building apps to perform studies, and CareKit (2016) to create apps to assist with management of patient care. The health and fitness tracking Apple Watch has also been credited by Apple as being capable of identifying early signs of heart disease.

Although the company has not strongly publicised its ventures into healthcare, the company is also reportedly working on the development of new health sensors, including a needleless blood tracker which monitors glucose levels continuously.

During his trip to Taiwan, Williams is also thought to be in discussions with Terry Guo, chairman of Foxconn, with regard to issues with the assembly of the new, high-end iPhone X. Foxconn is the exclusive manufacturer of the device.

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