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WHO issues first global report on AI in health

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released its first global report and six guiding principles on the design and use of artificial intelligence in health.

The report, ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health,  focuses on ensuring ethics and human rights are at the forefront of its design, deployment and use. It’s been developed over the past two years by an independent panel of 20 experts, from a range of countries including Tunisia, Uganda, Jordan, and the Netherlands, through to the USA.

It opens with, to quote Stephen Hawking: “Our future is a race between the growing power of technology and the wisdom with which we use it.”

The paper highlights the use cases for AI, and notes: “In some wealthy countries it is already being used to improve the speed and accuracy of diagnosis and screening for diseases; to assist with clinical care; strengthen health research and drug development, and support diverse public health interventions.”

WHO highlights caution against “overestimating the benefits of AI for health” and points out opportunities are linked to challenges and risks, including unethical collection, biases in algorithms and cybersecurity.

The report also covers the use of systems trained primarily on data collected from individuals in high-income countries which WHO said “may not perform well for individuals in low- and middle-income settings”.

The six principles outlined in the paper include:

Protecting human autonomy: In the context of health care, this means that humans should remain in control of health-care 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 well-being 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 minimize their environmental consequences and increase energy efficiency. Governments and companies should address anticipated disruptions in the workplace, including training for health-care workers to adapt to the use of AI systems, and potential job losses due to use of automated systems.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, commented: “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.

“This important new report provides a valuable guide for countries on how to maximize the benefits of AI, while minimizing its risks and avoiding its pitfalls.”

View the report here.