AI Talk: All of Us, Hippocratic Oath, NHS and gray tsunami

Aug. 23, 2019 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s AI Talk…


That’s the number of participants the National Institute of Health has managed to recruit for its Precision Medicine Initiative (PMI) cohort. The information was published by the “All of Us” researchers in the New England Journal of Medicine.  The report covers the goals of the initiative and the progress already achieved towards those goals. They are trying to recruit one million individuals from mostly underrepresented communities. One year into their recruitment process, it looks like they have made impressive progress. 80 percent of the recruits are from underrepresented communities. Data collection from these volunteers is fairly extensive—from surveys to physical characteristics to EHR data to biological specimens. In the future they plan to collect genomic data as well. Researchers will get access to this rich trove of data in 2020 and can use it in deep learning and other pursuits. Participants will have access to their own data, as well as the results of the studies. The biggest challenge the researchers face? Harmonizing the data collected from EHRs. And, sadly, that is no surprise at all.

Do no harm

That’s the Hippocratic Oath which all practitioners of medicine swear by. Now that tenet has come to machine learning (ML) in health care. Researchers from a number of leading institutions in the U.S. and Canada, and Google have published an article in Nature this week. The theme explored here is how to develop ML solutions that live up to the standard of “do no harm.” Their thesis goes like this: Pick the right problem and develop a solution, bring in ethicists to get their perspective, evaluate thoroughly, report results utilizing randomized control trials (RCTs) and bring it to market, making sure to comply with regulatory processes. They have a nice roadmap in the article highlighting these various steps. The very fact that this article exists is indicative of how there are too many ML solutions out there without full thought given to the various aspects of bringing them to the market. Such solutions have the potential to violate the first tenet of health care: Do no harm.

NHS investment

The race to invest in AI in health care is speeding up across the planet, with the latest announcement on this front coming from the British National Health Service (NHS). NHS is investing $300 million in its AI lab that brings together industry and academic researchers. They have been working with Google’s Deepmind over the years and the current announcement is simply a statement of intent to accelerate these efforts. As to what exactly they expect to achieve with this initiative? Here is a quote from their chief executive: “…by making the NHS a truly predictive, preventive and personalized health and care service.”

Gray tsunami

This article in the upcoming MIT Technology Review grabbed my attention, partly because I am just a few years away from qualifying for social security! Yes, this is a full issue devoted to aging with a provocative title: “Old age is over!” There is going to be a “gray tsunami” of people over 65 in short order across much of the world—China, Europe and America. And average life expectancy is trending significantly upward, from 50 in the early 20th century to currently almost 80 years old! In the past, such projections tended to provoke fear, doom and gloom, as the elderly had to be financially supported by the younger population. The fear in the mind of pessimists was that, as the population aged, the economy would slow down and productivity would go down. Not so fast, counter the optimists. There is evidence all around that elderly people continue to work and are more productive than younger folks. One study even suggests that the stereotypical image of a young entrepreneur is flawed—as a 50-year-old founder is 1.8x more likely to succeed than a 30-year-old founder!

This issue has a complete article on entrepreneurs over the age of 65. There is a whole other group of researchers who are seriously investigating the biology of aging. They want to reclassify old age as a disease that can be cured! There is some serious money behind these research efforts – for instance, Google has an entire wing investigating aging. I am with the optimist camp—old age is not something to be feared but something to be embraced and exploited!


The article on “do no harm” was suggested by my colleague, Anna Abovyan.

I am always looking for feedback and if you would like me to cover a story, please let me know. “See something, say something”! Leave me a comment below or ask a question on my blogger profile page.

V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.