Artificial Intelligence, Robots, Shiny Things and Public Involvement: is the future about empathy not coding? #AI #robotics #ArtificialIntelligence

Artificial intelligence, robots and all things shiny have taken the New Year by the scruff of its neck.

A matter of days after Big Ben woke from its enforced convalescence to announce the start of 2018, than the BBC was meeting robots at one of the largest tech shows in the USA: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42657607

I am not sure whether the fact that some of the robots made only marginally more sense than the average over-indulgent New Year reveller and had to have questions given to them in advance should inspire or worry us.

But I confess to doing a bit of an ooh and an aah as I sat watching all this from the comfort of my lounge. It seems A.I means machines can do everything quicker and better than us: http://m.scmp.com/tech/china-tech/article/2128243/alibabas-artificial-intelligence-bot-beats-humans-reading-firstYep, all this shiny stuff is here to stay. And 2018 will likely see more than ever come our way.

For as many people like the idea of this revolution in health care – and it does seem to genuinely deserve that description – there are of course those who don’t. An older man recently said to me he’d much rather be helped to go to the loo and be bathed by a robot than a relative. Others profess to feeling squeamish at the things that might be lost. I, for one, would be sad about not being able to drive again even though I can see electric cars are a very good thing.

A lot of very sensible things have already been written on the importance of public involvement in ‘programming’ these new inventions so that they meet our needs as sentient beings. Tom Saunders wrote well on the nesta blog about this at the end of last year; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-42657607
Others have also pointed out the importance of public involvement and engagement to avoiding a GM style ‘No-bots’ reaction from the public. See this evidence to the Science & Technology Committee in 2016 from the ‘other’ involve: https://www.involve.org.uk/2016/06/06/robotics-and-artificial-intelligence-evidence-to-the-science-and-technology-select-committee/

But actually my favourite soundbite on the challenge ahead came from a public contributor to the NIHR who I had asked to review the ‘Future of Health’ report commissioned from the RAND Corporation by the NIHR last year. Like other reviewers they also felt excitement about A.I, robots, technology but they also set up a nice counter poise to our 2018 version of the ‘white hot heat’ revolution. Very simply they said: ‘the future is empathy not coding.’

In our communities we might also choose to take this agenda by the scruff of the neck rather than lie back and think of Star Wars. How might we use A.I. to help us review and analyse the masses amount of data that are going to be the foundation of a lot of science in the future? Who is to say we couldn’t one day have our very own version of R2D2 sitting next to us in a review panel helping us to cut through the mind-boggling proposal we are being asked to consider. Or what about using A.I to pay people’s expenses and reimbursement within a month – now that would be a revolution.

There’s no doubt that the debate will unfold over the course of the next 12 months and one organisation I will be following to see what they say about it is Understanding Patient Data. It’s worth looking at what they have already done in fact: https://understandingpatientdata.org.uk/new-and-emerging-technologies

So perhaps this blog is really about saying let’s not keep our distance on this one. Let’s take it by the scruff of its neck. Whose to say robots might not be our best friend in involvement. Whose to say the future isn’t about ‘empathy AND coding.’

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