Ensuring artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for health benefit older people

(Photos Unsplash/Georg Arthur Pflueger; Reuters/Susana Vera)

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies have the potential to improve older people’s health and well-being, but only if ageism is eliminated from their design, implementation, and use.

A new policy brief, Ageism in artificial intelligence for health, released recently by the World Health Organization (WHO) presents legal, non-legal and technical measures that can be used to minimize the risk of exacerbating or introducing ageism through these technologies.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies are revolutionizing many fields including public health and medicine for older people where they can help predict health risks and events, enable drug development, support the personalization of care management, and much more.

There are concerns, however, that, if left unchecked, AI technologies may perpetuate existing ageism in society and undermine the quality of health and social care that older people receive. The data used by AI can be unrepresentative of older people or skewed by past ageist stereotypes, prejudice or discrimination. Flawed assumptions of how older people wish to live or interact with technology in their daily lives can also limit the design and reach of these technologies, and the way AI technologies are used can reduce intergenerational contact or deepen existing barriers to digital access.

“The implicit and explicit biases of society, including around age, are often replicated in AI technologies,” notes Alana Officer, Unit Head, Demographic Change and Healthy Ageing, WHO. “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.”

(Photos Unsplash/Georg Arthur Pflueger; Reuters/Susana Vera)

The following eight considerations could ensure that AI technologies for health address ageism and that older people are fully involved in the processes, systems, technologies and services that affect them.

  • Participatory design of AI technologies by and with older people
  • Age-diverse data science teams
  • Age-inclusive data collection
  • Investments in digital infrastructure and digital literacy for older people and their health-care providers and caregivers
  • Rights of older people to consent and contest
  • Governance frameworks and regulations to empower and work with older people
  • Increased research to understand new uses of AI and how to avoid bias
  • Robust ethics processes in the development and application of AI

The policy brief aligns with the messages of the Global report on ageism which serves as the basis for the Global Campaign to Combat Ageism. Produced by WHO in collaboration with OHCHR, UNDESA and UNFPA and launched in March 2021, the Global report on ageism notes that ageism is both highly prevalent and harmful but can be eliminated. As a first of its kind, the report describes the far-reaching impacts that ageism has on all aspects of health and well-being and on economies and signals a clear need to invest in three proven strategies: policy and law, educational activities, and intergenerational interventions. It also highlights the need to improve data and research on ageism and change the narrative around age and ageing to create #AWorld4AllAges.

Download the new policy brief here (https://apps.who.int/iris/rest/bitstreams/1408281/retrieve).