SWITZERLAND – According to the new WHO guidance, artificial Intelligence (AI) holds great promise for improving the delivery of healthcare and medicine worldwide, but only if ethics and human rights are put at the heart of its design, deployment, and use published today.
The report, Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health, is the result of 2 years of consultations held by a panel of international experts appointed through WHO.
AI can be, and in some wealthy countries 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, such as disease surveillance, outbreak response, and health systems management.
The new technology could also empower patients to take greater control of their own health care and better understand their evolving needs.
It could also enable resource-poor countries and rural communities, where patients often have restricted access to health-care workers or medical professionals, to bridge gaps in access to health services.
However, WHO’s new report cautions against overestimating the benefits of AI for health, especially when this occurs at the expense of core investments and strategies required to achieve universal health coverage.
It also points out that 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.
For example, while private and public sector investment in the development and deployment of AI is critical, the unregulated use of AI could subordinate the rights and interests of patients and communities to the powerful commercial interests of technology companies or the interests of governments in surveillance and social control.
The report also emphasizes that systems trained primarily on data collected from individuals in high-income countries may not perform well for individuals in low- and middle-income settings.
AI systems should therefore be carefully designed to reflect the diversity of socio-economic and health-care settings.
They should be accompanied by training in digital skills, community engagement and awareness-raising, especially for millions of healthcare workers whose roles and functions will be automated, and who must contend with machines that could challenge the decision-making and autonomy of providers and patients.
Ultimately, guided by existing laws and human rights obligations, and new laws and policies that enshrine ethical principles, governments, providers, and designers must work together to address ethics and human rights concerns at every stage of an AI technology’s design, development, and deployment.
The six principles that will ensure AI works for the interest of the public countrywide
To limit the risks and maximize the opportunities intrinsic to the use of AI for health, WHO provides the following principles as the basis for AI regulation and governance:
Protecting human autonomy: In reference to 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 while availing quality control practice measures.
Ensuring transparency, explainability and intelligibility: Transparency requires that sufficient information be published or documented before the design or deployment of an AI technology with information made easily available for public consultation.
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, hence 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.
These principles are meant to guide future WHO work to support efforts to ensure that the full potential of AI for healthcare and public health will be used for the benefits of all.