Google's former head of search products has just joined insurer Anthem to run its A.I. group

  • Anthem has hired Udi Manber, a former search head at Google, to be its chief AI officer.
  • The move signals that Anthem is making investments in both its core technology and customer experience.
  • Manber will build out an engineering team.
Anthem Health Insurance
Gus Ruelas | Reuters

Udi Manber, who ran engineering for Google's core search products and previously held senior roles at Yahoo and Amazon, is joining health insurance giant Anthem as the head of artificial intelligence, according to people familiar with the matter.

Manber's new role involved running the AI group at Anthem and he's expected to build out a team, said the people, who asked not to be named because the hire hasn't been made public. Manber is the first person at Anthem with that role, one of the people said, and he's the latest technologist to make the leap into health insurance, an industry that's incorporating digital tools and data science to control costs and improve coverage.

An Anthem spokesperson confirmed the hire.

UnitedHealth has dozens of data scientist positions open, according to its jobs page, and start-ups like Devoted Health and Oscar Health, which includes Alphabet as an investor, are taking on industry incumbents through digital tracking tools, analytics and easy-to-use apps. Anthem and other legacy insurers are moving ahead to modernize.

"It seems like both an offensive and defensive move," said Ari Gottlieb, principal at A2 Strategy Group, which specializes in health insurance. "It suggests that they won't want to lose customers to rival health plans, both start-ups and established players, which are also making investments in technology and customer experience."

Gottlieb said that in hiring Manber, Anthem is working towards "leveraging the huge amount of data they have to drive improved health outcomes."

Manber, whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as "search guy," is a big name in Silicon Valley. At Google, he was the vice president of engineering responsible for the suite of search products. Prior to joining the company in 2006, he was a senior vice president at Amazon in charge of algorithms and a chief scientist at Yahoo. He left Google in 2015 to start a research and development center for National Institutes of Health in the Bay Area.

In departing Google for NIH, he told the Wall Street Journal that "improving access to medical knowledge can have a big impact."

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