Apple Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams hinted at an Apple disruption in health care using the power of artificial intelligence (AI). Speaking at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s 30th anniversary celebration in Taipei, Mr. Williams said the world is “at an inflection point.”

Apple and the caduceus

Apple Disruption in Health Care

Apple has been talking about artificial intelligence, neural nets, and machine learning for a while now. According to Reuters, Mr. Cook said on Monday, “We think that the frameworks that we’ve got, the ‘neural engines’ we’ve put in the phone, in the watch […] we do view that as a huge piece of the future. We believe these frameworks will allow developers to create apps that will do more and more in this space, so we think the phone is a major platform.”

He also specified that Apple sees the health care industry as “ripe” for change. He added, “I think we’re at an inflection point, with on-device computing, coupled with the potential of AI, to really change the world.”

This is what Apple does under CEO Tim Cook to signal where the company is headed, without overtly saying it. Combined with other comments about Apple Watch, iPhone, and technologies such as non-invasive glucose monitoring, Apple appears to be gunning to be a major player in health care. Other topics mentioned in the past include information storage, management, and delivery.

Apple & Privacy

Apple has been adamant that it can do such things while maintaining privacy. One way Apple does this is by developing technologies that allow it keep data on devices, while keeping it from being tracked back to people using differential privacy. Mr. Williams hinted at those efforts, too, saying:

Some pieces will be done in data centers, some will be on the device, but we are already doing AI in the broader sense of the word, not the ‘machines thinking for themselves’ version of AI.

Apple’s pattern under Mr. Cook has been to hint slowly at what it will do, often by pointing out shortcomings in competing products and current solutions to problems. There’s been a steady increase in talk about AI over the last 18-24 months, and that says to me that Apple thinks it has something it can bring to market.

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W. Abdullah Brooks, MD

Bryan: Many thanks for that update. May it be a sign of good things to come. I could not help but notice that, in your graphic, you’ve used the Caduceus, the magic wand of Hermes, as the symbol of medicine. This is the messenger of the gods, the conductor of the dead, and the protector of travellers, merchants and thieves. This is not the original symbol of medicine. Some have argued that, because Hermes is in charge of incantations and magic, alchemy and therefore pharmacology and medicines also can fall into that category, and sometime in the 7th Century some… Read more »