WHO says Maximise benefits of AI for health, minimise risks

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, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report published on Monday.

The report Ethics and governance of artificial intelligence for health 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.

“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,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, in a statement.

“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,” he added.

In many countries, AI 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.

But, WHO’s new report 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.

The report,developed in consultations by a panel of international experts appointed by WHO, also emphasises 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.

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 WHO said.

To limit the risks and maximise the opportunities intrinsic to the use of AI for health, the WHO also listed six principles for regulation and governance of the technology. The principles are: protecting human autonomy; promoting human well-being and safety and the public interest; ensuring transparency, explainability and intelligibility; fostering responsibility and accountability; ensuring inclusiveness and equity; and promoting AI that is responsive and sustainable.

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