UK-based health chatbot company babylon, which raised $25 million in early 2016, has raised an additional $60 million in funding. While the company didn't disclose the investors, TechCrunch and Financial Times report that the round included Sawiris, an Egyptian billionaire business family, NNS holdings, Vostok New Ventures, and existing backers Kinnevik. They also report that the company's total funding is now in the neighborhood of $200 million.
babylon's offering is essentially a triage chatbot, which uses AI to ask users a series of introductory questions and determine whether they need to be seen by a human doctor. This has the potential to address doctor shortages by relegating some easier tasks to computers.
“Cutting edge artificial intelligence, together with ever increasing advances in medicine, means that the promise of global good health is nearer than most people realise," Dr. Ali Parsa, founder and CEO of babylon, said in a statement. "babylon scientists predict that we will shortly be able to diagnose and foresee personal health issues better than doctors, but this is about machines and medics cooperating, not competing. Doctors do a lot more than diagnosis: artificial intelligence will be a tool that will allow doctors and health care professionals to become more accessible and affordable for everyone on earth. It will allow them to focus on the things that humans will be best at for a long time to come.”
babylon has already had a chance to put these ideas into action on a fairly large stage: the UK's National Health System, which is testing babylon's technology in a six-month trial in north-central London, includes 1.2 million covered citizens. The company's direct-to-consumer offering starts with an AI-powered chatbot which can escalate up to a video visit if necessary. Triage via Babylon requires about 12 text messages and takes about a minute and a half.
In addition to the NHS pilot, babylon's app has been downloaded by some 800,000 patients around the world, the company says. That includes about 10 percent of the population of Rwanda, all of whom signed up in the six months the app has been available there.
“This significant international investment is a great vote of confidence in Britain’s continued ability to be a global leader in developing innovative technological solutions to worldwide problems,” Parsa added.
In a press release, the company shared that it intends to continue developing its platform and making it smarter.
"This year babylon will release a ground breaking evolution of its application, to offer diagnosis by AI that can help clinicians to accurately identify the disease and the most appropriate treatment," the company wrote. "To achieve this, babylon has curated the largest knowledge graphs of medical content, and made advances in various applications of deep learning techniques adapted specifically for healthcare."