A trio of Israeli co-founders of the start-up Aidoc, working on artificial intelligence to refine and quicken how radiologists read X rays, were listed in Forbes 30 Under 30.
The company’s CEO, Elad Walach, 29, the chief technology officer, Michael Braginsky, 29, and the vice president of R&D, Guy Reiner, 28, flew to London earlier this week to be named on the prestigious list’s science and healthcare category for 2018.
Aidoc is a Tel Aviv-based start-up that seeks to solve the pressing problem of our digital age – an overload of data. Aidoc’s software helps doctors detect and diagnose abnormalities by reviewing millions of medical images. The technology relies on deep-learning – a form of AI that surpassed human-level accuracy as recently as 2015 – allowing a machine to learn directly from the data without a human engineer inputting the rules.
In a typical emergency room, one radiologist may be sifting through mounds of medical images and clinical data, seeking to diagnose hundreds of patients. Aidoc’s algorithms and software can streamline the radiologist’s caseload and ease an otherwise deadly bottleneck for treating people. They can also help ration healthcare more effectively, flagging more urgent cases.
“Several months ago, one of our US sites had an elderly patient coming into the emergency room and he said he had a headache,” said Walach. “The protocol is that when he comes to the ER, they give him a CT scan, which takes 20 minutes. And then he waits for a read for a radiologist. For that patient, it was a busy night and it took two-and-a-half hours for someone to open the exam.
“In that situation, they saw that this patient had a hemorrhage. They sent him to be operated on. Luckily, in that situation, they saved his life. But due to the long wait in the ER, this patient had a significant mental deterioration that there is no way of coming back from.”
Already, some 15 hospitals and medical centers in Europe and the US are using Aidoc’s beta software, which can be downloaded onto a radiologist’s work station. And in December, Aidoc received a CE mark from the European Medicines Agency, giving the go-ahead to commercialize its product and possibly open a European headquarters later this year.
THE THREE co-founders met in the Israel Defense Forces’ elite Talpiot unit, which allows handpicked recruits to study for their undergraduate degrees while serving in the army and then enlist as officers, akin to the American ROTC program. Later, the three shared a Jerusalem apartment.
Walach served as the head of algorithmic research in the Israel Air Force and focuses on the company’s AI, while Braginsky is the “creative genius,” having led the IDF R&D branch for the special forces, and Reiner, who served in the elite intelligence Unit 8200, is the “one making sure we can execute on all our promises,” explained Walach.
“At the Defense Ministry, I was kind of an entrepreneur. I had to be connected to the needs and pain points of pilots, let’s say. On the other hand, I was designing algorithms for AI to solve those pain points,” Walach said, claiming that his work helped make air force strikes more accurate, to avoid civilian deaths.
Deeming Aidoc’s software to be “military-grade healthcare AI,” Walach is an example of how Israel’s start-up culture directly stems from army units. There, draftees are thrown into the deep end and forced to grapple with real-world problems, as opposed to computer science undergraduates who are modeling and coding only academic assignments.
Today, with artificial intelligence booming in Israel, Aidoc is harnessing the technology to help people work more efficiently and accurately.
“Most AI technologies aren’t really well suited for the healthcare domain,” said Braginsky, given the need for a specialized doctor or trained nurse to deliver care. “We had to develop a new kind of AI technology that can actually be robust and reach the needed accuracies.”
Founded in early 2016, Aidoc has raised $11 million from firms such as Magma Venture Partners, the first investor in Waze. The start-up employs some 25 people, many of whom served in the elite intelligence Unit 8200 and Talpiot.
“In a period of such shortage of minds, the one thing I’m truly proud about is building a team of such A-players coming from Israeli elite tech units,” Reiner said, alluding to how the Israeli hi-tech industry faces a crippling shortage of trained programmers and algorithmic engineers.
Born and bred in Haifa, Walach comes from a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) oriented family which emigrated from the former Soviet Union. Walach’s father has a doctorate in electrical engineering and works on IBM’s Watson machine, while his mother has a master’s in mathematics and computer science from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. And his two sisters are studying medicine and computer science.
“I got my passion for AI from my dad. In our family, my dad would work all the time – on nights, weekends. Sometimes I would ask him what he was doing. Rather than shushing me away, he would describe AI, computer vision, why it mattered,” Walach said.
As a 16-year-old, Walach spent his spare time building algorithms, playing with open data sets and detecting spatial images. “This was my way of hooking up and being romantic,” he joked.
Forbes names some 300 “young disrupters” to the annual list, which spans 10 categories such as finance, entertainment and law & policy. Thirty-four European countries are represented.