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One of the main frustrations of eye specialists is that many cases of blindness can be prevented, and that’s driving them to find ways to detect eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma as early as possible. For many experts, artificial intelligence is a promising way to enable screening for these conditions in primary care settings. Dr. Robin Ross, an ophthalmologist and director of the Arizona-based Global Retina Institute5, said, “85% of vision loss is preventable, but it’s a matter of detecting it early. And that detection usually occurs before patients have symptoms.”

Companies, from Google to a small firm in Iowa started by an eye doctor, are developing systems that use AI to analyze images of the eye. Many are designed to be assistive technologies
that help doctors more easily and quickly detect a problem, but the Iowa firm, IDx6, won Food and Drug Administration approval in April for an “autonomous AI” machine that can diagnose
diabetic retinopathy without a physician’s involvement. Only a technician is needed to operate the system.