The Dark Side of Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

Bradley Mattes   |   June 20, 2018

Google, Facebook and Twitter have been making headlines gathering vast amounts of personal information without your knowledge or consent.

But you may be even more distressed to learn Google and others want to collect your personal medical records for commercial purposes.

How they might use that information to make life or death decisions on your behalf is reason for concern.

Google’s DeepMind program cut a deal with the University of California, San Francisco and the University of Chicago to share 46 billion data points of anonymous patient information. And they’re after far more.

The goal is to train artificial intelligence (AI) to calculate a patient’s outcome and advise physicians on diagnoses and medical treatments. They contend AI will be able to predict and thus prevent unexpected deaths in hospitals, precluding the necessity of countless man hours monitoring patients, which the computer would do 24/7.

Denis Linine/Shutterstock

It’s believed this technological breakthrough will save both lives and money. But there is also a dark side.

To make this promising new market a commercial success, Google will need to score enormous quantities of personal data, and it will come from some unexpected sources. For example, those innocent apps on your smart phone tracing your motion and fitness could be utilized by AI algorithms to flag physical decline. No stone will be left unturned.

DeepMind also made a deal with the Veterans Administration which supplied them with the medical records of approximately 700,000 US veterans. It was reported that all identifying information had been scrubbed, but it will likely come as a surprise to most veterans that they are participants in this AI program.

Not all personal information collected by DeepMind has been anonymous. It obtained 1.6 million fully identifiable medical records of patients in three United Kingdom hospitals to test an app called Streams to spot early signs of kidney disease. Even though a vast majority of the patients had no kidney condition, their private information was included. UK regulations require explicit consent by patients before their personal medical information can be shared, but this was not the case.

When asked why the patients’ medical records had been shared without their consent, Google and the hospitals issued a statement saying the confidential information was released “on the basis of implied consent,” and thus they were following the rules.

Facebook and Twitter users are all too aware that their privacy was summarily jettisoned when these social media giants discovered how lucrative it is selling their personal, identifiable information.

Few would seriously believe that Google and other data-collecting Goliaths are above redefining the English language to justify accessing their personal medical records – identity and all – and selling it for profit.

Even more threatening than the gross invasion of privacy are the potential decisions that could be made against the wishes of countless patients and their families. Health care is already being denied to those deemed to be a poor investment of scarce medical resources. What will happen to the availability of life-sustaining treatment if AI gives the patient two digital thumbs down?

Last year the first Baby Boomers turned 70 while America’s fertility rate hit an all-time low. It’s estimated that by 2030 senior citizens will constitute over 20% of the nation’s population. The pressure to economize on medical expenses will become even greater, making the situation more perilous for our elderly and chronically ill. America has the potential for becoming expansive fertile ground for Death Panels.

The doctor gently says to the patient and family gathered around her bed, “Sorry, but Google says your time is up.” The wording may be an exaggeration, but the result would be the same.

Protecting vulnerable life,

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2 thoughts on “The Dark Side of Artificial Intelligence in Health Care

  1. Dear Friends,
    Thank you for this important warning!…. It confirms my already “informed choice” NOT to participate in any of these Internet forums. Many may think me old, and therefore naive, but like the ladies in the movie, “Hidden Figures”, I was a young woman programming the IBM 360 in 1963 for a major oil company.. I saw all I needed to see back then, and could anticipate the future enough to know I did not want to be a part of what I was seeing. Thank you so much for your work now.!

  2. Whatever happened to the Hippocratic Oath?

    My father was doing FORTRAN programming back in the day. Later, he wanted medical records computerized, and asked me to help him. I refused and I was very explicit why. My husband was also very involved in computers. He says AI is a myth, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

    As things stand now, already doctors run roughshod over patient requests in hospitals. They think they know better, but as far as I am concerned, any drug-happy doctor doesn’t know diddly squat. Neglecting to treat is just the other side of the coin. Overtreatment is rampant.

    I do not have a smartphone, or any apps of this nature. I don’t have any smart appliances in home or car. I buy old cars to avoid all the snoopy electronics. I don’t use gmail or Chrome. I’m working on ditching Google as a search engine. I don’t post personal data on social networks. Anyone who is wise will do likewise.

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