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WHO Director General expresses concerns about AI technologies

Health IT experts have lauded the benefits artificial intelligence (AI) will bring to healthcare for some time now. They range from improving cybersecurity to improving the workflow of a hospital. However, only the wealthiest countries and wealthiest healthcare organizations are able to purchase and use AI technologies.

Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) said at an AI summit that this technology must benefit everybody, not just the wealthiest countries and organizations, according to a Wired article.

“Enthusiasms for smart machines reflect the perspectives of well-resourced companies and wealthy countries,” Chan said in the article. “We need a wider perspective.”

Chan illustrates this disparity and how, quite frankly, silly AI technologies seem to those who don’t even have electricity and running, clean water.

“Any discussion of smart machines revolutionizing healthcare must be alert to these huge gaps in capacities,” Chan said in the article.

However, Chan said one thing everyone has in common regardless of wealth is the need to address chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and hypertension. Here is where Chan believes AI technologies and wearables could provide great value.

In addition to addressing the disparity issue, Chan also warned against the over-reliance on technology, asserting that while machines will aid doctors in their work and streamline processes that lead to decisions, technologies like AI will never replace doctors and nurses when it comes to their interactions with patients.

Furthermore, Chan said that sometimes these technology tools give a false sense of safety and security. “Wearables for monitoring cardiovascular performance are already being questioned,” she said, for example.

In addition to disparity issues and warning against over-reliance of technology, Chan also pointed out that when it comes to AI technologies there are also many regulatory issues that need to be addressed.

“What if a smartphone app misses a symptom that signifies a severe underlying disease?” Chan said in the article. “Can you sue a machine for medical malpractice?”

Chan said that medical devices are heavily regulated for good reason but how can a machine be programmed to think like a human? She pointed out that doctors and nurses are not only licensed to practice medicine but also undergo continued study.

But with AI, there are many questions, she said. “We do not have the answers to many questions around AI. We’re not even sure we know all the questions that need to be asked.”

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