AI may not be at Skynet-style kill-all-humans level, but it's still around and is still advancing quite nicely. While it pops up all over the place from phones to webapps, it could also have a place in the NHS. At least, that's according to Norman Lamb, head of the Commons Science and Technology Committee.
According to Lamb artificial intelligence could offer "immense" rewards, in terms of saving costs and diagnosing patients more quickly. A report from the Reform think-tank also suggests that AI could be utilised to predict individuals or groups at risk of particular illnesses, work out which services are most appropriate for patients, or even allow them to "self-care".
The group also claimed AI technology could improve the speed of diagnoses by 30 per cent, but pointed out that AI should be restricted to "enabler" status and not replace any human decision-makers. It also noted that it could ease the burden on the health service by identifying people who didn't actually need to be in hospital.
Other advantages of note include being able to provide care with fewer people, which would be advantageous given the NHS's current staff shortages.
According to the report only a handful of NHS trusts had implemented AI, stating that the service “recognises the value of the use of AI [it] is lacking clarity about both the strategic direction to take and where to start”. Normal Lamb claims that lack of funds is also an issue, telling The Independent:
"If we persist in teetering on the brink of collapse, as we are at the moment, with a system that’s under-resourced, where any additional money just goes to propping up a dysfunctional system, we won’t be able to take advantage of what AI could offer us.
This does involve quite a significant up-front investment."
It was also noted that patient data would need to be "cleaned up and digitised" first, because AI would be useless if it can't understand the data it's supposed to utilise.
However, Lamb made it clear that AI shouldn't be implemented at the expense of patients' privacy, and that tech companies should give the NHS a "fair deal" if and when the time came to implement the systems.
"There are risks out there, particularly around privacy, we’ve got to make sure people are protected.
The digitisation of the NHS has to be done in a way that guarantees the safety of data and that, again, requires investment. This can’t be done on the cheap.
And trust is going to be of central importance – if we lose the trust of people then we won’t be able to realise the great opportunities ahead of us.”