Forget the SciFi-like doomsday myths – AI can benefit society

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By assisting healthcare professionals, AI can accelerate and improve the industry (Source: Getty)

Aversions towards new technologies have been common throughout history, and artificial intelligence (AI) is no different.

Earlier this month, Elon Musk called AI a “fundamental risk to human civilisation” .

The Tesla founder and renowned technologist was joining the ranks of those who think that the rise of AI could bring about a dystopian science fiction scenario: machines taking our jobs and out-of-control robots making their own rules.

Read more: Robot wars: Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are embroiled in a geeky AI spat

Although most of the potential benefits are yet to be realised, this year AI has truly become a mainstream topic. Every industry is exploring ways in which it can improve traditional practices, from autonomous cars to algorithmic trading. Despite this, conversations seem to be unduly focused on fear about how these developments will impact our society.

As a result, we risk allowing this fear-based narrative to overshadow public opinion. We need to ensure there is balanced discussion of the risks and benefits, including the positive impact AI could have on both the labour market and society.

If implemented responsibly and proactively, there is huge scope for AI to revolutionise the way in which we live and work, without bringing about a SciFi-like doomsday.

A recent PwC report estimated that AI will add up to $15.7 trillion to the world economy by 2030. We are talking about a huge range of fields here, many of which are not what people immediately visualise when they think about robots in the workplace.

Few would argue that using intelligent machines to increase yields on understaffed farms is a bad thing. Moreover, these robots will have to be built and maintained, and the additional crops create more human work further down the production line – so AI will facilitate the creation of new jobs that would not have otherwise existed.

As the co-founder of a healthtech startup, I believe AI has huge potential to improve society if used to provide tailored information and support to both patients and doctors. AI in healthcare doesn’t necessarily mean fully robotic doctors. At Ada we combine deep medical knowledge with smart reasoning, to guide people towards the right information and support them in choosing what to do next.

We also link people with doctors for remote advice and care, with those interactions used to further train and improve the automated support.

By assisting healthcare professionals, AI can accelerate and improve the industry, enabling the provision of a better and more personalised service. For example, within the NHS, AI could help relieve pressure-points and carry out time-consuming, repetitive tasks, leaving doctors free to spend more time with patients and focus on prevention.

Humans should remain in charge of the decision-making process, but machines will deliver insights to help inform those decisions.

With technology enabling faster data analysis, smarter decision-making, and a decrease in time spent on straightforward tasks, clinicians will have the breathing space to focus more fully on the elements of care where they can uniquely deliver value.

They can provide a more personalised, attentive and thorough service, delivering empathy and reassurance, and harnessing technology to push the boundaries of medical knowledge.

It is important we develop strategies around AI that put people first. Policymakers and regulators have an obligation to make sure that any new technology is used responsibly, and that intelligent machines are implemented in a way that maximises the benefits to society.

The realities of AI are far less frightening than some of the headlines might lead us to believe. Harnessing the full potential of AI will enable us to improve industries on an entirely new level. While it is always important to assess and manage risk when implementing any new technology, we should look beyond the myths and fears, and base decisions on the real-world benefits that AI can deliver.

Read more: The three up-and-coming startups joining Pfizer's healthtech accelerator

Tags: Healthtech NHS