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Some of the patients had suffered heart attacks or were in septic shock; others had cancer, pneumonia, or a whole host of other conditions. From 2001 to 2012, more than 46,000 of them passed through the intensive care units at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Boston hospital affiliated with Harvard. Their vital signs were monitored and recorded, as were their lab test results, their doctors’ notes, and reams of other data.

Today, these patients’ de-identified medical records have become a crucial cog with outsized influence in a burgeoning field of artificial intelligence research that’s trying to answer some of the toughest questions in medicine and health care.

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