Artificial intelligence (AI) is reaching into every aspect of global health. In this essay, I examine one example of AI's potential contributions and limitations in global health: the prediction, treatment, and containment of a global influenza outbreak. The potential advantages are clear. AI can aid global influenza surveillance platforms by improving the capacity of organizations to look for novel influenza outbreak strains in the right places, to identify populations most likely to spread influenza, and to produce real-time information about the disease's spread by monitoring social media communications to track outbreak events. There are also very real limitations to what AI can do, and it is crucial that AI not be used as an excuse not to invest in strengthening health systems and other traditional components of global healthcare. AI may also be able to improve our understanding of who should receive a vaccine and what is most effective for large-scale vaccine delivery, but there will always be blind spots that the data cannot fill. Investment in healthcare, with attention to the danger of minimal access to care for minority groups that are at risk and in fragile situations, remains the best chance to prepare communities for outbreak detection, surveillance, and containment.
Davies, S. E. (2019). Artificial Intelligence in Global Health. Ethics and International Affairs, 33(2), 181–192. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0892679419000157