AI research needs more funding at NIH, NIST and others, says House report

Artificial intelligence will impact the workforce, personal privacy, data integrity and cybersecurity, the study says – so health and technology agencies should get more money to explore it.
By Mike Miliard
09:43 AM
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In a bipartisan new report on artificial intelligence, Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Subcommittee on IT, and Ranking Member Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, put forth funding and policy recommendations for addressing AI's impact on the public and private sectors – including healthcare.

WHY IT MATTERS

As artificial intelligence continues to evolve at an exponential pace and find its way into all manner of technology, it's already having profound effects on all industries and many important facets of society. Healthcare, of course, is no different, with AI making itself felt in fundamental ways – from newly-approved tools to detect diabetic retinopathy, to applications for new techniques for pop health and precision medicine.

This new report explores the ways AI could impact four areas, in healthcare and elsewhere: workforce, privacy, data integrity and cybersecurity. Specifically:

  • Workforce implications could include loss of jobs, so the report suggests government agencies boost efforts to improve training and reskilling so workers to be "more competitive in an AI-driven economy."
  • Privacy concerns include the fact that AI depends on algorithms that depend on troves personal data. The feds should review privacy laws and perhaps update them for the era of AI.
  • Biased data poses a big problem for AI's efficacy and, sometimes, safety. Agencies "should ensure the algorithms supporting these systems are accountable and inspectable."
  • Malicious use of AI is an emerging concern, with its potential to vastly increase the scope and risk of cyberattacks. Government should take more proactive steps to know how AI "could be used to harm individuals and society, and prepare for how to mitigate these harms."

WHAT IS THE IMPACT

The House report about AI is not strictly about healthcare, but each of those four concerns have potential direct impacts across the industry, from lost jobs for radiologists to patient safety concerns. The study offers an exploration about those challenges, but also the opportunities presented by AI, and gives recommendations for how the government can combat them and capitalize on them, respectively.

Increased funding for various government agencies will be a big way of accomplishing both goals. The United States "has traditionally led the world in the development and application of AI-driven technologies," they said. "This is due in part to the government’s prior commitment to investing heavily in research and development that has, in turn, helped support AI’s growth and development. In 2015, for example, the United States led the world in total gross domestic R&D expenditures, spending $497 billion.

But U.S. leadership in AI is "no longer guaranteed," said Hurd and Kelly. "To maintain American leadership there is a need for increased funding for R&D at agencies like the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, Intelligence Advanced Research Project Agency, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Department of Homeland Security, and National Aeronautics and Space Administration."

ON THE RECORD

"AI has the potential to disrupt every sector of society in both anticipated and unanticipated ways," according to the report. "In light of that potential for disruption, it’s critical that the federal government address the different challenges posed by AI, including its current and future applications."

THE BIGGER TREND

Government agencies are increasingly cognizant of the rise of AI, in healthcare and beyond, and their need to get in front of it to properly harness its evolution, deployment and safety. For all the risks it carries, there are also huge benefits to be had when it's properly deployed.

That's why, among other examples, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration early this year voiced its qualified support for AI in healthcare, and promised to refine its regulatory approach for the new era, with initiatives such an FDA-supported tech incubator for AI innovation and a new machine learning partnership with Harvard.

"We’re implementing a new approach to the review of artificial intelligence," said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD. "AI holds enormous promise for the future of medicine, and we’re actively developing a new regulatory framework to promote innovation in this space and support the use of AI-based technologies."

Twitter: @MikeMiliardHITN
Email the writer: mike.miliard@himssmedia.com