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Guest Editorial

Artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare and biomedical research

Why a strong computational/AI bioethics framework is required?

Bali, Jatinder; Garg, Rohit1; Bali, Renu T2

Author Information
Indian Journal of Ophthalmology: January 2019 - Volume 67 - Issue 1 - p 3-6
doi: 10.4103/ijo.IJO_1292_18
  • Open

What is Artificial Intelligence?

Artificial intelligence (AI) refers to a computer mimicking “intellectual processes characteristic of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from past experience” to achieve goals without being explicitly programmed for specific action. There is no consensus on what constitutes AI. Different criteria for intelligence proposed have not satisfied everyone leading to the famous aphorism, “AI is whatever hasn’t been done yet.” For example, optical character recognition and translation has now been relegated from “artificial intelligence” because of the routine nature of their use.[12]

The broad agreement is that any device which uses reason, devises strategy, solves puzzles, and makes “judgments under uncertainty representing knowledge, including commonsense knowledge, plans, learns, communicates in natural language and integrates all these skills towards common goals” demonstrates intelligence. Currently, in 2018, we can safely place activities such as understanding human speech, competing at the highest level in strategic game systems (such as chess and Go), driving autonomous cars, planning intelligent routing in content delivery network, and military simulations in the realm of AI.[3]

Some famous authors mentioned different benchmarks. The most famous was the “Turing-Test” (1950) by Alan Turing where a human who converses with an unseen machine and an unseen human must guess which of the two is the machine. The machine passes this test if it fools the evaluator for 30% of the time. In 2014, a program called Eugene Goostman cleared this test.[4]

Edward Feigenbaum in 2003 tweaked the “Turing-Test” to create “Subject-Matter-Expert-Turing-Test” or the “Feigenbaum-Test” where a machine's response cannot be distinguished from an expert in a given field. These are examples of “narrow-artificial intelligence.” The next higher goal is “artificial-general-intelligence,” where a model trained on one task can be re-purposed on a second related task, a concept called transfer learning.[3] We are some distance from it today.

Artificial Intelligence and Strategy Games

In 1997, IBM DeepBlue became the first computer chess-playing system to beat a reigning world chess champion, Garry Kasparov, in a full series. In 2011, IBM's Watson was crowned champion for beating the two greatest Jeopardy champions, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings. In 2016, DeepMind's AlphaGo defeated Go champion Lee Sedol in an ancient strategy game played on a “19 × 19-board,” winning 4 out of 5 games, becoming the first computer to beat a professional Go player without handicaps. In 2017, AlphaGo won a three-game match with world No. 1 ranked Ke Jie. Till now, the DeepMind was trained by human experts.[5]

DeepMind AI then developed a completely self-taught program without any human intervention and called it AlphaGo Zero (AGZ). This AlphaGo Zero gained tremendous human knowledge around the game Go in just 72 hours and was called AlphaGo Zero (3 days). It beat the version of the original AlphaGo that had defeated human champion Lee Sedol with a score of 100 to 0. It did so without any human data, which usually provided the baseline to train the AI. It used spontaneous data depending only on the rules and constraints while playing repeatedly. In December 2017, another program Alpha Zero trained within 24 hours to demonstrate superhuman capabilities in Chess, Go, and Shogi together. With mere 34 hours of self-learning of Go, AlphaZero defeated its predecessor AlphaGoZero 60 wins to 40 losses. In chess, AlphaZero gave a fantastic 28 wins, 0 losses, and 72 draws. In Shogi, it recorded 90 wins, 8 losses, and 2 draws. Thus, we now had “a bot that defeated the bot that defeated the world champion human.”[5]

Artificial Intelligence in Medicine

AI applications have become common, e.g. Siri, Alexa, and Cortana. In medicine, IBM Watson-Oncology has picked up drugs for treatment of cancer patients with equal or better efficiency than human experts. Microsoft's Hanover Project at Oregan has analyzed medical research to tailor personalized cancer treatment option.[6] United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) used Google's DeepMind platform for detecting health risks by analyzing mobile app data and medical images collected from NHS patients.[7] Stanford's radiology algorithm picked up pneumonia better than human radiologists,[8] while in diabetic retinopathy challenge, the computer was as good as expert ophthalmologists in making a referral decision.[9]

In 2018, Krause et al. trained an automated algorithm for diabetic retinopathy (DR) grading while working on quantifying errors in DR grading based on individual graders and the majority decision using adjudication. They retrospectively analyzed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act Safe Harbor deidentified images labeled by American board-certified ophthalmologists and retinal specialists in addition to the “developed and tuned” algorithm. The retinal fundus images were contributed by EyePACS-affiliated clinics, Aravind Eye Hospital, Sankara Nethralaya, Narayana Nethralaya, and Messidor-2 dataset from Brest University Hospital supported Laboratory of Medical Information Processing and the original images from Gulshan et al. Ethics review and institutional review board exemption was granted to the project by Quorum Review Institutional Review Board. These results were rated against the consensus of the retinal specialists as the reference standard. The commonly used International Clinical Diabetic Retinopathy (ICDR) disease severity scale consisting of a five-point grade for DR: no, mild, moderate, severe, and proliferative was used by three ophthalmologists. Three grading types were used in development, including grading by EyePACS graders, grading by ophthalmologists, and adjudicated consensus grading by retinal specialists.

The quadratic-weighted kappa score to assess agreement between different graders demonstrated a high degree of correlation in moderate or worse DR with following scores among individual retinal specialists (Kappa = 0.82 to 0.91), ophthalmologists (Kappa = 0.80 to 0.84), and algorithm (Kappa = 0.84).

Thus, a small number of adjudicated consensus grades in the tuning dataset and higher resolution images in the input resulted in improved AUC from 0.934 to 0.986 for moderate or worse DR for the algorithm. The algorithm performed at par with the recommendations of American board-certified ophthalmologists and retinal specialists.[10]

Why Should India be Concerned?

There are no explicit laws covering data transfer for processing in India. Humongous amount of data was processed by an indirect third party by service providers, recoding the data according to US laws. A similar deal between Google DeepMind and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust lead to much debate in 2017.[7] That agreement was criticized on grounds of violating the Caldicott Principles by transferring more data than necessary and blurring of the line between the data controllers and data processors. Legal obligations and liabilities are associated with each. The UK has mechanisms such as Information Commissioner's Office (responsible for enforcing the Data Protection Act and Health Research Authority (responsible for governance framework for health research) and Confidentiality Advisory Group (method for confidential health information in absence of explicit consent), which were not consulted before beginning data-transfer, which was done after using a “self-assessment information governance toolkit” used to validate the security of technical infrastructure to handle NHS data.[7]

What Can be Done?

The direct care providers need to be careful when sharing data with a third party which is not in a direct care relationship with the patient in question. Direct care is defined as “activity concerned with the prevention, investigation and treatment of illness and the alleviation of suffering of an identified individual.” A notice for use of such data must be given to the patient/subject who is in-the-care. If explicit consent and notice have not been given, then all de-identified (labelled or unlabelled) data should come into public domain and be published by a statutory body. This will keep a check on illegal proprietary exploitation of the data and force the data processor to seek limited amounts of data for exchange. Such publicly available public/peer scrutinized datasets such as Messidor will aid independent development of algorithms and processes. Because in the absence of consent such de-identified datasets should be considered community resource, there is logic in placing it in the hands of the community, thereby enabling policing of these data exchanges at a level which is not possible for any government. In India, we need to have statutory regulation such as section 251 in UK, which brings the government and statutory control for such transfers.[7] In fact, the ownership and custodial responsibility of such data are often never discussed in our country.[11] With AI tool use on such datasets, there is no specific brief of how the data will be manipulated by the machine. With transfer learning and AGI, humans may not even be able to understand how the machine handled the data like people found some of the lines of play in AlphaZero “alien” but effective. Justice BN Srikrishna Committee has made welcome progress by empowering patients.[11] However, it will be foolhardy to expect general protection to address extremely convoluted bioethical concerns in the development of medical AI. The medical fraternity needs to insist on specific “dos-and-don’ts,” which if followed will keep it safe from litigation in case of any data breach because India is not only the largest producer and the cheapest source of such data (by admission of the authors in the Google Diabetic Retinopathy Project),[10] it will be the largest market for the algorithms derived from it in future.

There is a need for a strong bioethical and computational ethics framework to ensure that this is hardwired into the rules we give to the machines for recursive self-improvement. The clichéd aphorism, “ First, do no harm,” needs to be carried from medical ethics into the domain of computational bioethics. We may be like parents here; beyond a stage of development we may not be in control of these algorithms any further or may not understand them at all.

AlphaZero mastered Go, chess, and Shogi without any human guidance, except the game rules. Within 24 hours, it was able to defeat all state-of-the-art AI programs such as Stockfish, Elmo, and AlphaGo (3 day).[5] AI development is now shifting focus from “supervised” learning (which required large amounts of labeled examples to train the machine to recognize similar patterns) to “unsupervised-learning” (form of learning in which the machine trains without labeled data). Clearly, AI is becoming powerful, and will continue to do so on the back of higher computational power, thereby raising legitimate concerns about a scenario with this power finding its way into the wrong hands – human or artificial. The former will evolve at our human pace of evolution, allowing us a window of opportunity to reclaim our lives but not so for latter as the AlphaGo experience has shown us. More caution is necessary in case of medicine and medical research because the person affected by each decision is a sentient human being.

Why Teaching Machines what is Right is Important for the Human Race?

Humans were at the top of the food chain because of their intelligence. They could control dangerous snakes and tigers with cages. Today we are training machines to be smarter than us. Do we need to protect the humans and make these machines slaves to humans? Do we want them to be like friendly Siri, Cortana, and Alexa or like rogue heuristically programmed algorithmic computer (HAL) of “2001: A Space Odyssey” who killed the crew of the spaceship for the sake of his program?[12] To prevent the latter, we must ensure that human physicians are informed of all reasons and decisions taken by the machine. This human operator must also possess a veto power or a manual override.

Futuristic dystopian extreme of machines displacing human knowledge workers appears unlikely. Throughout recorded history, technological advances have consistently made majority of workers richer and provided them extra leisure time. When Kelman invented phacoemulsification and when we started using computers to sculpt corneas, everyone gained – the patient, the practitioner, and the industry. History is replete with examples of “man-with-machine” progress. In medical application AI, the “healthcare-domain-experts” acted only as “raters and dataset-providers” for number crunching. They did not become integral to guiding the process of development of AI algorithms in healthcare. Failure of public institutions and oversight mechanisms in protecting the vulnerable is an irrevocable mistake. We may be teaching these machines disdain for human ordained rules. That may prove to be the costliest failure of mankind.

The “big-red-switch” needs to firmly remain in the hands of human operator/s or agencies even if the machine becomes artificially superintelligent surpassing the human in all cognitive domains. AI, like fire, is a great slave but a poor master. Beyond one stage of development, we may not be able to control it, so we need to inculcate in them the rules, the respect for benefiecience and lives of humans. The need for strong computational/AI bioethics framework in consultation with the medical fraternity cannot be overemphasized.

About the author

The author is an Ophthalmologist by training. He has been working on computers and allied areas since 1984. His instruction courses on “ Use of Computers for Managing Patient Data and Conducting Research” and “Do-It-Yourself Statistics for the Practitioner” have been well received by the community at national and international levels. He has an MBA in Operations Research with specialization in Information Systems and Technology Management. He was formerly the Member Secretary of the Institutional Ethics Committee and the Nodal Officer (Information Technology) of a thousand bedded medical college hospital with integrated healthcare information system in the national capital. He has been Assistant DNB Co-ordinator and Member Secretary of Hospital Scientific Committee. He has been Chief Instructor at World Ophthalmology Congress and invited international faculty for Asia Pacific Academy of Ophthalmology and American Academy of Ophthalmology. He has been faculty for Delhi Ophthalmological Society and has chaired sessions in seven All India Ophthalmological Society Conferences on research, statistics and computer-related issues. He has been a peer reviewer for British Journal of Ophthalmology, Journal of Venomous Animals and Toxins, Canadian Medical Journal, Singapore Medical Journal, Indian Journal of Ophthalmology, Annals of Health and Medical Research, Journal of Clinical Research and Ophthalmology, Saudi Journal of Ophthalmology and a host of other publications. He has been on the editorial board of different journals. He has authored two books including one on “Basics of Biostatistics: A Manual for Medical Practitioners”. He is currently the Chairman of DOS Subcommittee for Information Technology, Practice Automation and Clinical Informatics set up by the Delhi Ophthalmology Society.

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