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WHO highlights benefits, dangers of artificial intelligence for older people



The World Health Organisation (WHO) says Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies can improve older people’s health and well-being, but only if ageism is eliminated from their design, implementation and use.

In a new policy brief on Wednesday, ageism in artificial intelligence for health, the agency presents legal, non-legal and technical measures that could be used to minimise the risk of exacerbating or introducing ageism  through AI.

Artificial intelligence is revolutionising many fields, including public health and medicine for older people.

The technology could help predict health risks and events, enable drug development, support the personalisation of care management, and much more.

There were concerns, however, if left unchecked, AI technologies might perpetuate existing   ageism in society and undermine the quality of health and social care that older people received.

The data used could be unrepresentative of older people or skewed by past ageist stereotypes, prejudice or discrimination.

Flawed assumptions of how older people wished to live or interact with technology in their daily lives could also limit the design and reach of these technologies.

They could also reduce intergenerational contact or deepen existing barriers to digital access.

According to the Unit Head of Demographics and Healthy Ageing at WHO, Alana Officer, the implicit and explicit biases of society, including around age, are often replicated in this field.

“To ensure that AI technologies play a beneficial role, ageism must be identified and eliminated from their design, development, use and evaluation. This new policy brief shows how.”

In the new document, WHO introduced eight considerations, including participatory design of AI technologies by and with older people; age-diverse data science teams, and age-inclusive data collection.

The agency also made the case for investments in digital infrastructure and digital literacy for older people and their healthcare providers and caregivers; rights of older people to consent and contest; and governance frameworks and regulations to empower and work with older people.

Finally, WHO asked for increased research to understand new uses of AI and how to avoid bias; and robust ethics processes in the development and application of these technologies.

The policy brief aligned with the messages of Global report on ageism which served as the basis for the Global Campaign to Combat Ageism.

Produced by WHO in collaboration with the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) and the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the report noted that ageism was highly prevalent and harmful but could be eliminated.

The publication described the far-reaching impacts that ageism had on all aspects of health and well-being and on economies.

It also signalled a clear need to invest in three proven strategies: drafting better policies and legal frameworks, educational activities, and intergenerational interventions.

It also highlighted the need to improve data and research on ageism and change the narrative around age to make the hashtag, #AWorld4AllAges, a reality.

Cecilia Ologunagba

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