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Can we leave AI in the hands of big technology firms?


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Every day there are new revelations around artificial intelligence. The biggest breakthrough recently was Google’s DeepmInd which revealed that its Go-Playing artificial intelligence device mastered the ancient game from the beginning in just 70 hours.

AI can spot things a lot easier and quicker than a human can including; been able to spot cancer in medical scans which means radiotherapy can be targeted in minutes - a fraction of the time it would take a human which would normally take hours.

We may soon be starting to use the technology to design state of the art drugs, or even repurpose old existing ones to help treat other diseases.

But, with the rise of these opportunities, it also increases the potential risks surrounding AI it may; proliferate, uncontrolled and unrelated in the hands of a couple of increasingly powerful technology firms at the expense of other peoples jobs, equality in the workplace and their privacy.

There have already been mistakes over the sharing of patient records between the AI (Deepmind) and the Royal Free Hospital based in London that have raised public concerns about technology firms being involved in the world of digital healthcare.

There is a potential for the public to have a backlash towards AI, similar to that that has already been seen with the introduction of genetically modified crops, which is very real.
With the GM crops, business initially reaped the overall benefits, while society held the risks and same may start to apply with AI - there are some differences though, the barriers to introducing AI are much lower than it was for the GM crops.

The real worry regarding a public backlash is that the overall response will not be widespread regulation of the whole marketplace, but rather a clampdown on the use of AI in any public sector workplace.

Private companies can continue to use AI unregulated to improve the targeted products. In the public sector where there could potentially be life-changing benefits for people, over-regulation will mean that the opportunities will basically be lost and not benefited from.

This though does not mean that we should allow AI to spread uncontrollably in the National Health Service - but does show us how important it is to get right. AI has the potential to work really well in collaboration with the NHS but it needs the patients, members of the public and the healthcare professionals to have confidence in the system which should include clear oversight.

Transparency is key for this to work! Having an early on discussion regarding the overall value of data and finding a way for the NHS to realize the value when using the services based on algorithms which require patient data is crucial.

While there will always be the risk of a GM style backlash from the public which could prevent the appropriate use of AI in the NHS, it shouldn’t that it shouldn’t be tried and pushed. The information commissioner has recently claimed that it does not need to be a choice between privacy and innovation.

There is an example of embryo research and the approval of mitochondrial donation named ‘three-parent babies’ shows that the UK has learnt from the initial mistakes of the GM crops.

There is potential for technologies to be introduced with full public confidence if it is done correctly and carefully, with a clear oversight of what it is and what it can do, a robust regulatory framework, wide-reaching debates about any ethical and social implications and most importantly a meaningful public consultation.

We must follow this same approach with the inclusion of AI to hopefully ensure that ultimately it is the patient who will win!

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