The UK is about to make a big gamble on artificial intelligence. The Guardian has learned that Prime Minister Theresa May will commit millions of pounds in funding for AI research that can potentially diagnose cancer and chronic diseases at an early stage. The technology could, if it works, reduce avoidable deaths. May’s prepared speech estimates that it could be as many as 22,000 lives per year by 2033. This technology has the potential to extend healthy living by another five years. But there’s a huge catch. And in the world that we live in today, the catch is so big that it might mean this technology won’t be used.
In order for artificial intelligence to be able to diagnose cancer, the National Health Service would need to submit a ton of genetic and medical information to internet companies who are familiar with combining data in a large scale. In plain English? They’re going to have to give all of your data to a third party. While, I’m positive that there will be checks and balances in place, this kind of screams Cambridge Analytica, and definitely makes you think twice about wanting to do it. This kind of data handling is typically done by a government body. Which is why there are concerns that the data might be abused or fall into the hands of the wrong people.
Ultimately, this kind of technology would be beneficial from a health perspective. I mean, being able to help treat cancers is a huge deal. But using artificial intelligence to achieve this is having mixed reactions. May describes AI as a “new weapon” in the research, but that could be spun in an entirely different direction. In addition to the health breakthroughs, many high-skilled science jobs would be created. Teresa May made the following statement in her speech:
Late diagnosis of otherwise treatable illnesses is one of the biggest causes of avoidable deaths. And the development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings opens up a whole new field of medical research.
But like I said, this is kind of controversial. May’s plans give hope within the medical field, but some believe it’s not that simple and there are many challenges. Does the UK have the right infrastructure within the health service to be able to pull this off? On top of that, the public needs to be able to separate the hype of what this could mean, with the fact that this technology is using highly personal data. Can that be done in a responsible way?
I’m not saying that it can’t, and I think in this case, the UK should see this through. I mean, if it’s going to save or prevent thousands of deaths a year, I think it’s worth a try. I’m not saying that something can’t happen, but I think that’s the beauty of mistakes – they present us with lessons. Which means, if the UK does go through with this, they need to put measures in place to ensure that the personal and private data doesn’t get hacked. And then they need to put measures on top of those measures, because it is 2018, after all.