Google's new AI tool can help diagnose that irritating skin problem

Is it a boil? Is it a mole? Is it something more sinister? Google machine learning app can tell you if you should be bothering your doctor with it

Google AI dermatology tool
(Image credit: Google/Pexels/NEOSiAM 2021)

Troubled by a skin condition that's appeared out of nowhere? It might be an annoying rash or a painful boil, and it may well go away after a couple of days or linger for ages, so what do you do about it? It's the sort of thing you may hesitate about troubling your doctor with – especially at the moment with health services so stretched that merely getting a phone appointment can take days or weeks – but what if it turns out to be something serious?

This is the sort of situation where you can find yourself turning to Google and potentially scaring yourself half to death in the process. It's hard to describe skin problems using words alone, and very easy to convince yourself that you definitely have a very rare form of aggressive cancer.

Google AI dermatology tool

(Image credit: Google)

Google sees almost ten billion searches every year related to skin, nail and hair issues, and says that while two billion people worldwide suffer from dermatological issues, there's a global shortage of specialists. Realising that it's hard to get answers with a Google search, a team at Google Health has developed a tool that can help identify skin problems using just your phone's camera.

Google's app, which it hopes to launch as a pilot later this year, asks you to take three photos of your skin, nail or hair problem from different angles. It'll then ask you about your skin type, how long you've had the problem and any other symptoms that could help narrow things down. Its AI model then works with all this information – as well as a knowledge of 288 conditions – to provide you with a list of potential conditions complete with dermatologist-reviewed information, helpful facts and matching images from the web.

Obviously it's not foolproof and Google stresses that it's not intended to provide a diagnosis or be a substitute for medical advice. However it hopes that the tool can provide access to authoritative information so that you can decide about seeking medical help.

Google's AI tool takes factors like age, sex, race and skin type into account, and has been trained with millions of images to help it provide answers as accurately as possible. And while it hasn't been evaluated by the US FDA and isn't available in the USA, it's already been CE marked as a Class I medical device in the EU. To find out more, read all about it on the Google blog.