Doctors: Here is why we are worried about Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence

The doctors, who are drawn from different countries around the world, say AI should be regulated before it is adopted for use by healthcare professionals and people in general. 

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A group of doctors and public health experts is urging the world to slow down on the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in human healthcare, calling it an "existential threat to humanity".

Artificial intelligence is a form of technology that enables computers to do things traditionally thought to be the preserve of humans. The doctors, who are drawn from different countries around the world, say AI should be regulated before it is adopted for use by healthcare professionals and people in general.

In a joint analysis published in the BMJ Global Health journal, the doctors highlight three main threats associated with the use of artificial intelligence in medicine.

This contradicts the applause that other researchers have given AI in previous studies. The doctors are concerned that AI can quickly clean, analyse and organise large data sets containing personal information. As a result, this data can be used for niche marketing and campaigns depending on the person's agenda.

"This ability of AI can be put to good use, for example to improve our access to information or to counter terrorist attacks. But it can also be misused, with serious consequences," they said, citing the use of AI in influencing Kenya's 2013 and 2017 general elections by Cambridge Analytica.

"Experimental evidence has shown how AI, used at scale on social media platforms, is a powerful tool for political candidates to manipulate their way to power. It has indeed been used to manipulate political opinion and voter behaviour," they said.

In the context of medicine, they worry that AI is leading to an increase in distorted images that end up misrepresenting even real people. They also worry that AI-driven surveillance could be used by governments and other powerful actors to control and oppress people. The other threat is the use of Lethal Autonomous Weapon Systems, which have the ability to locate, select and engage human targets without the need for human supervision.

Unemployment is already an existential threat in the country, with reports that some 4,000 newly qualified doctors have no jobs. The analysis also has reservations about AI because it is likely to take some of the jobs of people already in the workforce. This, it says, has a positive side, meaning more and faster productivity, but there is a catch.

"While there would be many benefits from ending repetitive, dangerous and unpleasant work, we already know that unemployment is strongly associated with adverse health outcomes and behaviours, including harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs, being overweight and having lower self-rated quality of life and health, and higher levels of depression and suicide risk," the experts explained. The scientists are now calling for firm policies, informed by research, on how AI should be used in medicine.

"With the exponential growth of AI research and development, the window of opportunity to avoid serious and potentially existential harm is closing," they said.

"Crucially, as with other technologies, preventing or minimising the threats posed by AI will require international agreement and cooperation, and the avoidance of a mutually destructive AI 'arms race'. It will also require decision-making that is free from conflicts of interest and protected from lobbying by powerful actors with vested interests," they said.