Industry and experts respond to government’s AI plans

Yesterday (21 May), Theresa May announced government plans to utilise artificial intelligence and data to transform the way in which diseases like cancer are diagnosed.

Industry leaders and experts have responded to the announcement, highlighting the potential that unused NHS imaging data can have on clinical knowledge.

CEO and co-founder of healthtech company, Sophia Genetics, welcomed the announcement, saying: “We welcome countries’ ambitions to invest in artificial intelligence and help push progress in order for current healthcare systems to advance to the next level – Data-Driven Medicine powered by AI.”

“Whilst nations are joining the race to become leaders in this space, it is critical to not work in silos and develop technologies that are already on the market. Instead, it is important to look beyond national borders and work together to build a collective intelligence which can make a real impact on people’s health outcomes.”

Jane Rendall, managing director of NHS imaging technology partner Sectra UK & Ireland, commented on the NHS’ currently unused data sets.

“The NHS has practically unused archives of millions of diagnostic images that could become one of the most powerful clinical datasets in the world if artificial intelligence is used effectively. Our health service has a wealth of imaging data that it can use to start teaching machines how to recognise parts of the human anatomy, and more importantly, how to recognise abnormalities.

“As more and more diagnostic disciplines digitise, imaging collected has huge potential to go from being largely unused storage boxes to goldmines of clinical knowledge. Machines can act as a powerful decision support system, but more than that they could be programmed to proactively suggest other conditions that they have been taught to recognise.”

“AI cannot replace the human in the diagnostic process, but it can enable automation of mundane tasks to better support radiologists and pathologists, enabling the most urgent studies to be reviewed first and allowing specialist staff to be alerted to the more complex cases that require their attention. It is reassuring to see commitment from Theresa May to this crucial area, that could do so much to reduce the ever-growing pressure on NHS diagnostic departments.” Rendall said.

Researcher of AI in healthcare and co-director of the Artificial Intelligence Innovation Network, Panos Constantinides discussed the challenges of AI in healthcare.

“Many companies such as Microsoft, Google, IBM, Amazon, and Facebook have invested great resources to develop AI algorithms that would help clinicians predict, diagnose and treat different types of cancer. There have been many success stories, including alerts of patients’ deteriorating condition, identifying skin cancer, and predicting cancer development and cells and proposing appropriate treatment.

“However, despite all the hype, no AI system is currently able to eradicate cancer. The example with the most cited challenges is IBM’s Watson for Oncology. The key challenge is learning. Granted, all the big tech companies have access to huge amounts of data – the key ingredient for an AI algorithm to learn and improve itself, so it can predict, diagnose and treat cancer.”

“The future is certainly bright and with the addition of wearables, biogenetics and robotic implant technologies we are definitely getting closer to winning the fight against cancer. However, we need more collaborative efforts across disciplines to charter through unchartered data grounds, establish connections between them and begin to work with AI algorithms to speed both human and machine learning.” Constantinides said.

Jackie Hunter, CEO of AI healthcare company, BenevolentBio, said: “AI has the potential to revolutionise all aspects of healthcare – not only in delivery and early diagnosis of disease but also in the ability to find new medicines and ensure they are delivered to the right patients. It is also important that the UK maximises its human capital and ensures that all students have the ability to study data science and its applications in a range of areas including healthcare.”

Speaking about the perceived dangers of AIMark Bridger, vice president of information management software company OpenText, said: “Artificial intelligence and cognitive technologies have the potential to completely transform healthcare services. While sci-fi films can distort the impact of AI technology, it’s time to stop viewing AI as an existential threat to our livelihoods and our health.

“AI will transform the workplace as menial tasks, and some non-routine jobs, are digitalised through robotics and process automation but it cannot replace people. The true value of AI will be found in it working alongside humans to ease the pressure across the healthcare system as well as making our lives easier.

“By implementing AI when tapping into the vast volumes of data available to them, healthcare organisations can gain access to real-time information and sophisticated insights – empowering them to improve decision-making and deliver services that really do meet the needs and wants of UK citizens.”

In response to the potentials of AI to transform cancer care, Ian McLoughlin from the School of Computing Data Science Research Group at the University of Kent, said: “AI has the potential to improve almost every aspect of the cancer discovery process: to make detection earlier, more decisive, treatments more effective, with fewer side-effect and lower rates of remission.

“Big data – the key underpinning technology for AI – means using thousands or millions of data points to enable artificial learning systems to explore and deduce relationships between cause and effect. By studying large amounts of data from the population as a whole, or from target groups, or even large amounts of data from a single person over time, these systems can build an understanding of individuals and groups.

“An AI system can get to know you from your data, and most importantly will get to know how you are changing. Disease markers sometimes take months or years to become visible to the naked eye, but AI-based monitoring can identify fine-grained and correlated changed in an individuals’ daily life patterns. These patterns again reveal effectiveness of treatments, updated if necessary to the millisecond (rather than after every GP visit).

“However, these tools are no substitute for the skill, experience and dedication of a good GP – at least not within the near future – but could become crucial in advising your local family doctor. After all, AI can know you better, observe you more closely, track you more frequently, direct your treatment more effectively, and monitor your outcome more objectively than any human.

“Yet when we are faced with the long wait, when we receive that dreaded news, and when living after cancer, we need the human face of our family doctors more than ever.”

Reece Armstrong is a reporter for Digital Health Age. Coming from the North East of England, Reece has an MA in Media & Journalism and a BA in Popular & Contemporary Music from Newcastle University. Reach him on Twitter or email via:

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