In its latest report, Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health, experts look at how AI can improve diagnosis and screening for diseases and how it can be best used to minimise risk.
“Like all new technology, artificial intelligence holds enormous potential for improving the health of millions of people around the world, but like all technology it can also be misused and cause harm,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said. “This important new report provides a valuable guide for countries on how to maximise the benefits of AI, while minimising its risks and avoiding its pitfalls.”
In some wealthy countries, AI is already being used to assist with clinical care, strengthen health research and drug development and support public health interventions such as disease surveillance, outbreak response and health systems management.
In poor countries and rural communities, where patients often have restricted access to healthcare workers or medical professionals, it can also be used to better access health services.
However, opportunities are linked to challenges and risks, including unethical collection and use of health data, biases encoded in algorithms and risks of AI to patient safety, cybersecurity and the environment.
WHO says governments, providers and designers must work together to address ethics and human rights concerns at every stage of AI technology’sdesign. It has set out six principles to ensure AI works for the public interest in all countries:
Protecting human autonomy: In the context of healthcare, this means that humans should remain in control of healthcare systems and medical decisions; privacy and confidentiality should be protected, and patients must give valid informed consent through appropriate legal frameworks for data protection.
Promoting human wellbeing and safety and the public interest. The designers of AI technologies should satisfy regulatory requirements for safety, accuracy and efficacy for well-defined use cases or indications. Measures of quality control in practice and quality improvement in the use of AI must be available.
Ensuring transparency, explainability and intelligibility. Transparency requires that sufficient information be published or documented before the design or deployment of an AI technology. Such information must be easily accessible and facilitate meaningful public consultation and debate on how the technology is designed and how it should or should not be used.
Fostering responsibility and accountability. Although AI technologies perform specific tasks, it is the responsibility of stakeholders to ensure that they are used under appropriate conditions and by appropriately trained people. Effective mechanisms should be available for questioning and for redress for individuals and groups that are adversely affected by decisions based on algorithms.
Ensuring inclusiveness and equity. Inclusiveness requires that AI for health be designed to encourage the widest possible equitable use and access, irrespective of age, sex, gender, income, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability or other characteristics protected under human rights codes.
Promoting AI that is responsive and sustainable. Designers, developers and users should continuously and transparently assess AI applications during actual use to determine whether AI responds adequately and appropriately to expectations and requirements. AI systems should also be designed to minimise their environmental consequences and increase energy efficiency. Governments and companies should address anticipated disruptions in the workplace, including training for healthcare workers to adapt to the use of AI systems, and potential job losses due to use of automated systems.
Meanwhile, scientists have discovered new technology that reduces noise in hospitals by turning plastic sheets into noise-cancelling panels, which is being trialled in the UK before being rolled out globally.