10 principles for reducing generative AI risk in health

Friday, 17 March, 2023

10 principles for reducing generative AI risk in health

A new paper published by Australian AI ethicist Stefan Harrer PhD proposes a comprehensive ethical framework for the responsible use, design and governance of generative AI applications in health care and medicine.

The peer-reviewed study published in The Lancet’s eBioMedicine journal details how large language models (LLMs) have the potential to fundamentally transform information management, education and communication workflows in health care and medicine but equally remain one of the most dangerous and misunderstood types of AI.

“LLMs used to be boring and safe. They have become exciting and dangerous,” said Harrer, who is also Chief Innovation Officer, Digital Health Cooperative Research Centre (DHCRC) and a member of the Coalition for Health AI (CHAI).

“This study is a plea for regulation of generative AI technology in health care and medicine and provides technical and governance guidance to all stakeholders of the digital health ecosystem: developers, users and regulators. Because generative AI should be both exciting and safe.”

LLMs are a key component of generative AI applications for creating new content including text, imagery, audio, code and videos in response to textual instructions. Prominent examples scrutinised in the study include OpenAI’s chatbot ChatGPT, Google’s chatbot Med-PALM, Stability AI’s imagery generator Stable Diffusion and Microsoft’s BioGPT bot.

The study highlights and explains many key applications for health care:

  • assisting clinicians with the generation of medical reports or preauthorisation letters;
  • helping medical students to study more efficiently;
  • simplifying medical jargon in clinician–patient communication;
  • increasing the efficiency of clinical trial design;
  • helping to overcome interoperability and standardisation hurdles in EHR mining;
  • making drug discovery and design processes more efficient.

However, the paper also highlights the inherent danger of LLM-driven generative AI arising from the ability of LLMs to authoritatively and convincingly produce and disseminate false, inappropriate and dangerous content at unprecedented scale is increasingly being marginalised in ongoing hype around the recently released latest generation of powerful LLM chatbots.

A framework for mitigating risks of AI in health care

As part of the study, Harrer identified a comprehensive set of risk factors that are of special relevance to using LLM technology as part of generative AI systems in health and medicine, and proposes risk mitigation pathways for each of them. The study highlights and analyses real-life use cases of both ethical and unethical development of LLM technology.

“Good actors chose to follow an ethical path to building safe generative AI applications. Bad actors, however, are getting away with doing the opposite: hastily productising and releasing LLM-powered generative AI tools into a fast-growing commercial market, they gamble with the wellbeing of users and the integrity of AI and knowledge databases at scale. This dynamic needs to change,” Harrer said.

Harrer argues that the limitations of LLMs are systemic and rooted in their lack of language comprehension.

“The essence of efficient knowledge retrieval is to ask the right questions, and the art of critical thinking rests on one’s ability to probe responses by assessing their validity against models of the world. LLMs can perform none of these tasks. They are in-betweeners which can narrow down the vastness of all possible responses to a prompt to the most likely ones but are unable to assess whether prompt or response made sense or were contextually appropriate,” Harrer said.

He suggests that boosting training data sizes and building ever more complex LLMs will not mitigate risks but rather amplify them. The study proposes alternative approaches to ethically (re-) designing generative AI applications, to shaping regulatory frameworks, and to directing technical research efforts towards exploring methods for implementation and enforcement of ethical design and use principles.

Harrer proposes a regulatory framework with 10 principles for mitigating the risks of generative AI in health:

  1. Design AI as an assistive tool for augmenting the capabilities of human decision-makers, not for replacing them;
  2. Design AI to produce performance, usage and impact metrics explaining when and how AI is used to assist decision-making and scan for potential bias;
  3. Study the value systems of target user groups and design AI to adhere to them;
  4. Declare the purpose of designing and using AI at the outset of any conceptual or development work;
  5. Disclose all training data sources and data features;
  6. Design AI systems to clearly and transparently label any AI-generated content as such;
  7. Audit AI against data privacy, safety and performance standards (ongoing);
  8. Maintain databases for documenting and sharing the results of AI audits, educate users about model capabilities, limitations and risks, and improve performance and trustworthiness of AI systems by retraining and redeploying updated algorithms;
  9. Apply fair-work and safe-work standards when employing human developers;
  10. Establish legal precedence to define under which circumstances data may be used for training AI, and establish copyright, liability and accountability frameworks for governing the legal dependencies of training data, AI-generated content and the impact of decisions humans make using such data.

“Without human oversight, guidance and responsible design and operation, LLM-powered generative AI applications will remain a party trick with substantial potential for creating and spreading misinformation or harmful and inaccurate content at unprecedented scale,” Harrer said.

He predicts that the field will move from the current competitive LLM arms race to a phase of more nuanced and risk-conscious experimentation with research-grade generative AI applications in health, medicine and biotech which will deliver first commercial product offerings for niche applications in digital health data management within the next two years.

“I am inspired by thinking about the transformative role generative AI and LLMs could one day play in health care and medicine, but I am also acutely aware that we are by no means there yet and that, despite the prevailing hype, LLM-powered generative AI may only gain the trust and endorsement of clinicians and patients if the research and development community aims for equal levels of ethical and technical integrity as it progresses this transformative technology to market maturity.”

DHCRC CEO Annette Schmiede said, “The DHCRC has a critical role in translating ethical AI into practice.” 

“There is a newfound enthusiasm for the role of generative AI in transforming health care and we are at a tipping point where AI will start to become ever more integrated into the digital health ecosystem. We are on the frontline and frameworks like the one outlined in this paper will become critical to ensure an ethical and safe use of AI," she said.

Image credit: iStock.com/metamorworks

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