Critical Overview: WHO Ethics Guidance on AI in Health
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released a new report, Ethics & Governance of Artificial Intelligence for Health, which urges caution against overestimating the benefits of AI for health. The report, produced after two years of consultations by a panel of international experts, highlights that AI technology must be deployed in ways that ensure the delivery of healthcare worldwide improves. However, it warns that there are ethical and human rights considerations that must be placed at the core of AI’s design, deployment and use. The report sets out several challenges and risks associated with AI and provides six consensus principles to ensure AI works for the public benefit.
The report highlights the potential of AI technology to improve diagnosis and screening for diseases, assist clinical care, support drug development, and public health interventions. However, the WHO guidance also highlights the risks associated with the use of AI, including biased algorithms, cybersecurity risks, risks to patient safety, and the unregulated collection and use of health data. The report warns that the unregulated use of AI could lead to the rights and interests of patients and communities being subordinated to the commercial interests of technology companies or the interests of governments in surveillance and social control.
The report provides six consensus principles to ensure that AI technology works for the public benefit. These include ensuring AI design is safe, transparent, and has human oversight, respecting privacy and confidentiality, and ensuring that the use of AI technology is inclusive and benefits all countries. The guidance also includes recommendations to ensure the governance of AI for health maximises the promise of the technology and holds stakeholders accountable.
The WHO guidance recommends that AI systems are carefully designed to reflect the diversity of socio-economic and healthcare settings and are accompanied by training in digital skills, community engagement, and awareness-raising. The guidance emphasises that ethical considerations must be placed at the heart of AI’s deployment and use to ensure the technology is used to improve the delivery of healthcare worldwide.
Conclusion: Maximising the Benefits of AI in Health
The WHO’s new guidance highlights the potential benefits of AI in health but urges caution against overestimating the technology’s potential at the expense of core investments and strategies to achieve universal health coverage. The report provides important consensus principles to ensure that AI technology is used for the public benefit, while mitigating the associated risks and challenges. The guidance emphasises that the design, deployment and use of AI technology must be underpinned by ethics and human rights considerations to ensure the technology is used safely, transparently, and for the benefit of all countries.