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Ali Parsa

Creating Babylon’s AI-enabled digital healthcare as “the biggest doctor’s brain in the world”

Ali Parsa is founder and CEO of Babylon, the revolutionary artificial intelligence and digital health company. Babylon’s mission is "to put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on Earth."

Ali Parsa is on a mission to reinvent the world’s access to healthcare. Maybe his time has come.

Babylon was the capital of Babylonia, a kingdom in ancient Mesopotamia between 1800-600 BC, built along the banks of the Euphrates river, about 85km south of modern day Baghdad.

“Two-and-a-half thousand years ago, you would go to the square in Babylon” says Parsa. “It was called the Square of the Sick, I think, and citizens, if they’d come across your ailment, would share how they’d recovered. As a result of that simple peer-to-peer model, it has been estimated that Babylon had the longest life expectancy of any city in the world.”

Parsa himself, grew up in nearby Iran, then escaped as a lone teenager, trekking through Afghanistan and eventually to Europe, and settling as a refugee in London.  Having taught himself English and maths, he won a scholarship to study for a PhD in engineering, whilst also running an events business called Victorian & Gilan which he later sold. He found his way into banking, as head of technology investment for Goldman Sachs.

Parsa was much more interested in people than money, and now a father, saw huge opportunities for the use of new technologies in healthcare. In 2004 he co-founded Circle Health, driven by what he saw as a terrible state-run healthcare. He secured £500m from Lehman Brothers to create a chain of luxury private hospitals designed by famous architects and run by hoteliers. However when Lehman’s crashed, so did his dream.

He realised that the biggest difference he could make was not in the hospital experience itself, but in what happened before and after. He set out to create “the Google of healthcare” information. It took the form of an AI-driven app through which people could diagnose illnesses based on interactive questions, and if required, gain instant video consultations with doctors.

Babylon Health, based in London, now employs over 750 doctors, scientists, engineers and data analysts. They offer a subscription-based service to individuals wanting faster, on-demand health advice. A deal with the UK’s NHS to create a version of Babylon’s service called “GP at Hand” has dramatically scaled-up the service, with similar partnerships internationally. For the NHS it creates a fast, more personal service to patients, directly on your smartphone, and relieves the pressure on physical resources.

Parsa sees Babylon as “the biggest doctor’s brain in the world”, and loves to show how his AI-based analytics can more effectively diagnose patients’ needs than a real person. His real ambition is to create personal and predictive healthcare, using a range of wearable sensors that can monitor individual health, and take action before it’s ever needed.

Fast Leader April 2020

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