Artificial Intelligence for Identifying and Monitoring Cognitive Decline

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In the latest episode of Impetus Digital‘s Fireside Chat, I sat down with Liam Kaufman, CEO & Co-founder of Winterlight Labs, for another thought-provoking discussion. Among many other topics, we delved into AI, machine learning, natural language processing, digital biomarkers, and human-computer interactions in healthcare.

You can preview our conversation below:

Q: Can you explain what Winterlight Labs is and what your core objectives are?

A: At Winterlight Labs, we make speech-based digital biomarkers for measuring disease severity and disease progression in neurology and psychiatry. The company was founded in 2015. It was a spin-out from the University of Toronto. At the time, I was really interested in getting back into this intersection between computer science and neuroscience. I started to reach out to colleagues at the university and I was introduced to one of my Co-Founders, Frank Rudzicz, a computer scientist. He was doing really interesting research on taking speech and using that as an objective way of assessing people with dementia.

It turns out that when you have dementia, or specifically Alzheimer’s disease, your have word-finding difficulties. This will manifest in longer and more frequent pauses. You tend to forget the names of people, places, and things. You use fewer nouns and you compensate them with pronouns. You tend to use simpler words, so instead of saying SUV or sedan, you might just say car.

At first, this was fascinating that you can do this, but what I think was really neat was when we started to talk to physicians, specifically neurologists and psychiatrists, none of them are really surprised because they’ve been picking up on these changes in language their entire career. But, they cannot really put a number on it. They don’t count the number of nouns when they talk to someone, but they pick up the overall gestalt of this person’s state through speech. They might ask them, “How are your children or grandchildren doing?”, “How are the holidays?”. When they are having this conversation, they are picking up all this information that they use as a part of this diagnosis.

What we are doing at Winterlight Labs is we are taking all these variables that specialists and physicians perceive, and in some cases cannot even perceive. We are coming up with a very easy way of scaling and democratizing that type of measurement and to make aspects of neurology and psychiatry much more objective. We are moving away from these pen-and-paper subjective assessments that were created in the 1980s, 90s, etc. to a more rigorous way of evaluating someone…

For more of our discussion, you can watch the whole Fireside Chat with Liam Kaufman, or listen to the podcast version, below.

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