Gerd Gigerenzer discusses how search engines use big data analytics to “diagnose” your state of health | BMJ Opinion
Image shows pancreatic desmoplasia. Pancreatic cancer is associated with a vast desmoplastic reaction in which the connective tissue around the tumor thickens and scars.
Imagine this warning popping up on your search engine page: “Attention! There are signs that you might have pancreatic cancer. Please visit your doctor immediately.” Just as search engines use big data analytics to detect your book and music preferences, they may also “diagnose” your state of health.
Microsoft researchers have claimed that web search queries could predict pancreatic adenocarcinoma. A retrospective study of 6.4 million users of Microsoft’s search engine Bing identified first-person queries suggestive of a recent diagnosis, such as “I was told I have pancreatic cancer, what to expect.” Then the researchers went back months before these queries were made and looked for earlier ones indicating symptoms or risk factors, such as blood clots and unexplained weight loss. They concluded that their statistical classifiers “can identify 5% to 15% of cases, while preserving extremely low false-positive rates (0.00001 to 0.0001)”, and that “this screening capability could increase 5-year survival.” The New York Times reported: “The study suggests that early screening can increase the five-year survival rate of pancreatic patients to 5 to 7 percent, from just 3 percent.”
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