Guru Banavar, Viome CTO

Meet Vie - Viome’s Artificial Intelligence System

Jun 22, 2018

Viome’s mission is to eradicate chronic disease. To do this, our goal is to develop the most profound understanding of human biology in existence, which means that we need to take a deep look into the most important sources of information about our bodies. 

So, how do we understand human biology better than ever before? 

First, we start with the biggest piece of the human biology puzzle. A few decades ago, we thought this puzzle piece would be the human genome but the human genome is only 20,000 genes. In comparison, our microbial genome is between 2 to 20 million microbial genes, making our genetic material 99% microbial. This means that to fully understand the human body we must start by collecting data and analyzing the gut microbiome – the richest source of our microbes. 

To understand and learn more about these gut microbes, we use the toolkit of artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze biological data and learn from many sources of information. Viome’s artificial intelligence system, which we fondly refer to as ‘Vie,’ uses data gathered from four sources:

1. Biological testing – Currently, our primary testing is for the gut microbiome but be on the lookout for the blood transcriptome and more.

2. Expert knowledge – Experts in the fields of microbiology, nutrition, and medical science are closely involved in training Vie and updating its knowledge base as new insights and experience become available and relevant.  

3. Customer feedback – We collect information from questionnaires and chat interactions with customers who have received recommendations from Viome.  Customers provide us information about their phenotypes (e.g., symptoms), as well as how they are following recommendations and the results they are seeing.

4. Scientific literature – We can also incorporate insights from carefully curated scientific publications, so Vie has access to scientific knowledge that is ready to be applied.

We meticulously collect this information and use it to educate our Vie – this is called knowledge representation and machine learning in the world of AI. We use a variety of algorithms that takes the above information and builds “models” of biology, then uses those models to reason through specific situations to make decisions about our customers’ health indicators and recommendations.  Most of these algorithms are trained through expert knowledge and judgment, and are hence known to be supervised.  We also use unsupervised algorithms to explore the data and discover patterns that human experts may have missed, with the goal that these insights can enrich our knowledge of human biology.

This process is an ongoing loop where we train Vie, analyze situations with it, take the resulting outcomes and apply it to our ongoing improvements and discovery, constantly refining every step of the way. We’re convinced that this process will eventually result in the most comprehensive collection of information available about the human gut microbiome and its impact on human biology. 


Why We Started with the Gut Microbiome


Your gut is critical to your overall wellbeing. The level of microbial activity in your gut is so rich, we’ve come to realize we are merely hosts. To understand your gut, we must understand its microbiome. Through the development of RNA sequencing, we can see everything that is happening in clear detail.  We’re looking at the details of the biological molecules that tell us about the structure, function, and behavior of the active microbes in your gut.

The results and recommendations you see in your app are the culmination of the analysis of millions of pieces of data.   To be specific, your individual gut microbiome test results in approximately 5 gigabytes of raw data.  To understand how much data this is, consider that it is the equivalent of tens of thousands of books… in fact there’s a public library’s worth of data in each gut microbiome!  That’s more information than anyone can read in a lifetime, within a single gut microbiome!

And considering that we have that much data from each person in a huge population of customers in Viome, and we can analyze the patterns across that population, it’s truly an impressive amount of information that can give us unprecedented insights about human biology.

So, how do we take all that information and distill it into something useful?  This is where Vie comes in.


The Power of Vie


Vie is capable of analyzing patterns at many levels, and connecting all kinds of dots with greater accuracy than any human could possibly hope to. You see, your biology is wonderfully complex – and only through the power of AI analysis can we crunch such information and find insights with dramatically lower error.  

Vie helps us sort through mountains of data to find correlations among microorganisms, their functions, and external issues that people face. With the help of Vie we can understand your microbiome tests with greater accuracy and speed. Vie is able to algorithmically process massive data sets and discover patterns through statistics, decision analytics, logic, and other mathematical techniques.  

At the same time, Vie is also built to work within a clear set of boundaries.  Vie’s algorithms decide on a result or recommendation only when it is highly confident of a result, and if they are not, punts it to a human expert to take a deeper look.  In other words, Vie uses several accuracy and confidence thresholds to decide when it is more prudent to take the advice of a human expert.  This process of having a human expert in the loop ensures that our results and recommendations are kept to a high standard of accuracy.  Viome thus leverages the best of what AI has to offer and what human experts have to offer.

Through Vie’s analysis we have a very clear understanding of what’s going on in your gut microbiome – more so than at any other time in history. Vie is also constantly learning to be able to make predictions as to why a microbiome is associated with certain phenotypes. With the power of Vie’s analysis, we make dietary and supplement recommendations aimed at improving your gut microbiome health. 

Think of Vie as your partner in discovery. Vie is going to continue to unlock patterns in human health as we unravel the mysteries of the gut microbiome and beyond. 


A Day in the Life of Vie


Vie is an early bird and wakes up every day at 12am to start processing new customers’ data. As it goes through all the input (microbiome and questionnaires) from each customer meticulously, it develops an understanding (“model”) of the situation and arrives at the best available insights regarding health indicators for that person.  Based on those indicators, it generates the best known recommendations for foods and supplements for that individual.

If during this analysis process Vie finds any issues outside of the known parameters, it records the exception carefully and flags that the case needs a second look by our team of translational scientists. This is an important aspect of Vie – there are clear boundaries on what is known and what it is highly confident of.  These outliers also become critical for further training Vie, so it continues to build its understanding of the trillions of possible variations across human biology. 

You see, Vie’s food is data. Just like we need plenty of high quality food with lots of variety, for Vie to grow we need to feed it lots of high quality and variable data. Vie also needs to be systematically educated by experts in biology and medical science to ensure that the data is interpreted in the right way.  Vie’s knowledge and decisions are carefully checked and validated throughout its life to make sure that it’s analysis is accurate.

Vie is built as a tireless worker which always aims to do its best for each customer, but at the same time knows the boundary of its capabilities and is open to being educated and re-educated constantly.


3 Artificial Intelligence Myths Debunked


It’s really easy and fun to personify artificial intelligence systems. Due in part to the depiction of AI in sci-fi movies, many people think of artificial intelligence as human-like robots that eventually turn on you. Fortunately, we are a very LONG way from artificial intelligence even coming close to a Ridley Scott fantasy.  And more importantly, we will probably never be able to understand biology and eradicate chronic disease without artificial intelligence.

Here are 3 artificial intelligence myths debunked. 

1. Artificial intelligence mimics humans – We humans have wonderfully complex brains that can imagine, explain, empathize, and socialize.  Think about how much you’ve been through to become the person you are today...decades of complex experience, trial and error. What you went through to become the human you are now is incredible and we are very far from having machines capable of doing everything you can do.

2. Artificial intelligence will take all our jobs – Most artificial intelligence enhance knowledge-based work, and will likely make the output more effective. For example, there are just not enough medical scientists and doctors to address all diseases in all people in the world, and AI can definitely augment these experts.  Will AI change the job landscape? Definitely, and we humans have to learn new skills to work in partnership with machines.  We will need a period of adaptation, but I believe that we humans are equipped to handle these potential changes.

3. Artificial intelligence is scary – Only if you watch too many movies! Artificial intelligence is nowhere near ready to take over the world. If anything, it’s going to enhance many aspects of our lives and make things run much more smoothly. You’re already using AI on a regular basis – probably without realizing how awesome it is… check out these 5 ways artificial intelligence enhances your life today:

1. You know how Spotify and Pandora are able to recommend playlists for you based on the music you like? That’s because of AI. 

2. Uber’s system transitions from drop off point to nearest pickup along the drivers route with the help of AI.

3. Siri and Alexa have gotten significantly better at following commands over the last few years and I bet you can guess why… Yep, AI again. 

4. When your bank notifies you that there is a strange, possible fraudulent activity, that’s because an AI machine flagged the activity. 

5. Amazon actually pre-packages some of your orders based on how likely it is you’ll order something, so it’s ready to go and gets to you faster. Pretty impressive, isn’t it?



Bottom line is this: AI already enhances many aspects of our life today.  Through our application to human biology, it’s going to enhance our health. 


Vie at Your Service


Vie is embedded in your Viome app – it is the hand-held version of our artificial intelligence system. After you take your Viome test, you get your very own personal AI assistant with Vie. Your recommendations are more than a list of foods you should eat, they are the culmination of trillions of data points that have been analyzed, cross checked, and reanalyzed again until Vie passes high standards of validity.

This information is then passed off from Vie in the cloud to Vie on your app, where you not only have access to all this excellent information, but also the regular updates that come from the constant improvement of this powerful machine. 

Technology is developing rapidly, and you now have access to this through Vie. 

On top of that, technology is dramatically coming down in cost. Ten years ago very few people could afford to have to have genomic testing done on themselves. Even two years ago the kind of service that Viome offers cost $5,000 per person. Now, it’s only $399 per test. After that, you’re part of the Viome community and each subsequent test is only $199. We will continue to bring this cost down until we achieve our mission of eradicating chronic disease. 

When you sign up for Viome you are joining a team at the forefront of the Omics Revolution! You are part of this massive and revolutionary undertaking. We are so excited to be on this journey with you.

At Viome, we are all about empowering you – the individual. This is why our test is delivered right to your door. You can Sign Up Here to find out exactly how to feed your microbes so they can in turn take better care of you. 

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Guru Banavar is passionate about Viome’s mission to eradicate chronic disease, and leads the development of Viome’s AI systems as the chief technology officer.  He is known for his previous work on IBM Watson AI and Smarter Cities, as a global Vice President at IBM. Guru has given prestigious talks (Nobel and Turing), served on public commissions and boards, and received notable awards.  He has published and patented extensively, and his work has been featured in major international media including the New York Times, Economist, Wall Street Journal, BBC, and NPR.



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