Apple's new AI acquisition has some healthcare experience

By Jonah Comstock

Lattice, the "dark data" startup Apple snapped up earlier this week, may well have aspirations in the healthcare space. 

Apple acquired the company a few weeks ago according to Tech Crunch, which says a source put the deal at $200 million. Lattice is working on using artificial intelligence to turn "dark data", which is unstructured, largely unusable data generated through digital interactions, into structured, usable data.

Obviously Apple is working on a number of different initiatives, and the company has declined to comment on its plans for the acquisition. But there is reason to think that Lattice might be taken up as part of Apple's many healthcare efforts. That's because Lattice grew out of a Stanford research project called DeepDive. In fact, cofounder Christopher Ré won a MacArthur Genius Grant to pursue the project.

Although it was arguably most famous for its applications in fighting human trafficking, DeepDive had at least two applications in the medical space, according to a Stanford website about the project.

One application is focused on a problem that a number of healthcare AI efforts are tackling: sifting through the huge and growing volume of medical literature. Specifically, the project is focused on scanning the medical literature for genes, diseases, and phenotypes and infering their relationships in order to augment OMIM, a human-curated database of genetic disorders.

The other application is in the field of pharmacogenomics and even precision medicine, using DeepDive to "extract relations between genes, diseases, and drugs in order to predict novel pharmacological relationships."

Apple wouldn't be the first tech company to buy an AI company and set it to work on healthcare. Google bought AI startup DeepMind in 2014 and has ended up focusing most of that company's energies in the healthcare space.