Eye, robot: Artificial intelligence dramatically improves accuracy of classic eye exam

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The classic eye exam may be about to get an upgrade. Researchers have developed an online vision test—fueled by artificial intelligence (AI)—that produces much more accurate diagnoses than the sheet of capital letters we’ve been staring at since the 19th century. If perfected, the test could also help patients with eye diseases track their vision at home.

“It’s an intriguing idea” that reveals just how antiquated the classic eye test is, says Laura Green, an ophthalmologist at the Krieger Eye Institute. Green was not involved with the work, but she studies ways to use technology to improve access to health care.

The classic eye exam, known as the Snellen chart, has been around since 1862. The farther down the sheet a person can read, the better their vision. The test is quick and easy to administer, but it has problems, says Chris Piech, a computer scientist at Stanford University. Patients start to guess at letters when they become blurry, he says, which means they can get different scores each time they take the test.

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