Monday 5 December 2016 6:59 pm

Google's DeepMind is using "blockchain related" technology to increase data transparency

DeepMind is using technology "related to blockchain" in an effort to become more transparent in the way it handles patient data in a tie-up with NHS health trusts which has caused concerns over privacy.

Co-founder Mustafa Suleyman said the British artificial intelligence company owned by Google is working on a "general transparency architecture" for monitoring who looks at what data, and when, in a "distributed and untamperable way". Patients themselves will be able to see this information.

The efforts to increase transparency follow a five-year deal with the Royal Free London NHS Trust, which includes top security engineer and cryptographer Ben Laurie joining the company with the specific job of ensuring the security and transparency of data.

Read more: Google's DeepMind wants to make doctor's paperwork obsolete in new NHS deal

Patient information is shared with DeepMind, but not Google, so that it can use the data to potentially diagnose illnesses earlier than if records were being kept as traditional paperwork.

While data sharing agreements between business and NHS Trusts across the country have been commonplace since 2014, work with the often secretive Google-owned company has faced scrutiny because of its high-profile nature and the large amount of date it had been given access to.

DeepMind has since sought to better communicate how it handles and stores data in a bid to be more transparent. Laurie is leading the work on what a Google spokesperson confirmed is a blockchain-like technology to which Suleyman referred while speaking at the TechCrunch Disrupt tech conference in London on Monday.

Blockchain's distributed ledger has been eyed by many industries, particularly finance, as an effective way for keeping track of transactions in a secure, trustworthy and transparent way.

Read more: Could AI halt blindness? DeepMind and this London hospital are finding out

Suleyman defended the company from criticism over data privacy, pointing toward several moves to be more open.

In addition to the appointment of Laurie and increasing patient control over data, that includes the appointment of an independent ethics board to oversee its health work. There is a separate internal AI ethics board within Google, however, he declined to disclose who was involved. DeepMind and Google are also part of a major new group of top tech firms, academics, policy experts and non-profits called Partnership on AI, working on best practice and ethical development of the technology.