Two United Nations specialized agencies are joining forces to expand the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the health sector to a global scale, and to leverage the power of AI to advance health for all worldwide. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the World Health Organization (WHO) will work together through the newly established
ITU Focus Group on AI for Health to develop an international "AI for health" standards framework and to identify use cases of AI in the health sector that can be scaled-up for global impact. The group is open to all interested parties.
"AI could help patients to assess their symptoms, enable medical professionals in underserved areas to focus on critical cases, and save great numbers of lives in emergencies by delivering medical diagnoses to hospitals before patients arrive to be treated," said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao. "ITU and WHO plan to ensure that such capabilities are available worldwide for the benefit of everyone, everywhere."
The demand for such a platform was first identified by participants of the second
AI for Good Global Summit held in Geneva, 15-17 May 2018. During the summit, AI and the health sector were recognized as a very promising combination, and it was announced that AI-powered technologies such as skin disease recognition and diagnostic applications based on symptom questions could be deployed on six billion smartphones by 2021.
The ITU Focus Group on AI for Health is coordinated through ITU's Telecommunications Standardization Sector – which works with ITU's 193 Member States and more than 800 industry and academic members to establish global standards for emerging ICT innovations. It will lead an intensive two-year analysis of international standardization opportunities towards delivery of a benchmarking framework of international standards and recommendations by ITU and WHO for the use of AI in the health sector.
"I believe the subject of AI for health is both important and useful for advancing health for all," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The ITU Focus Group on AI for Health will also engage researchers, engineers, practitioners, entrepreneurs and policy makers to develop guidance documents for national administrations, to steer the creation of policies that ensure the safe, appropriate use of AI in the health sector.
"1.3 billion people have a mobile phone and we can use this technology to provide AI-powered health data analytics to people with limited or no access to medical care. AI can enhance health by improving medical diagnostics and associated health intervention decisions on a global scale," said Thomas Wiegand, ITU Focus Group on AI for Health Chairman, and Executive Director of the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, as well as professor at TU Berlin.
He added, "The health sector is in many countries among the largest economic sectors or one of the fastest-growing, signalling a particularly timely need for international standardization of the convergence of AI and health."
Data analytics are certain to form a large part of the ITU focus group's work. AI systems are proving increasingly adept at interpreting laboratory results and medical imagery and extracting diagnostically relevant information from text or complex sensor streams.
As part of this, the ITU Focus Group for AI for Health will also produce an assessment framework to standardize the evaluation and validation of AI algorithms -- including the identification of structured and normalized data to train AI algorithms. It will develop open benchmarks with the aim of these becoming international standards.
The ITU Focus Group for AI for Health will report to the ITU standardization expert group for multimedia, Study Group 16.
For more information on the Focus Group and how to participate, contact the secretariat of ITU-T Study Group 16 at