Good Health and/or Surveillance

Artificial intelligence, advances analytics in preventing pandemics and new mobile applications

“Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ he was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘But don’t bother about the bread, please.” — Pooh Goes Visiting, Winnie the Pooh

Well, in this case it seems two good things was to be had by Pooh.

With these kind of solutions those working in a state or contracting a company may have to be careful – can we have both good health and/or surveillance?

An easy answer, would be yes, and it seems governments around the world have started thinking about how to track the spread of a virus.

The Norwegian government recently announced that they would be working to bring out an app to track citizens.

“Data on how we move and how many people we infect will be important to see how infection control measures work, and how many more close contacts we get […] As data is collected, you will receive a notification if you have been in close contact with an infected person and will be advised on how to deal with it.” Gun Peggy Knudsen, acting assistant director at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (press release)

As someone who has been considering matters related to AI for some stretch of time I can see that the data could be misused.

However on the other hand if we consider all the health data, economic data, identity and so on that the Norwegian government has that is being used responsible as well as being kept apart to as large extent as possible it is important to understand that much of this data is available already.

One interesting side effect – if we want to believe in honey and bread — is the possibility to get more data on movement in cities that can be added to city planning. Perhaps by getting more location-based data there are other ways this can be used for health benefits beyond the Coronavirus. Although it might be best this if this data is only used for the epidemic.

On the other hand if we have no belief in sweet things, then we may come to realise that yes there is another side to the medallion, it could be used for serious political matters. Any vehicle that can be used by an elected party or those wanting to become elected is a bit of an issue. Seeing how the current Trump administration has been overstepping boundaries long established is only one example of several present in a polarised world.

In Norway we have one of the highest levels of trust in the state in the world, and some do want to believe in the good that can result from this relationship – it has after all been very fruitful for long to have this attitude to each other.

If we used machine learning techniques applied to understand the dataset to get an overview of how we address Coronavirus this is being proposed by private companies. Yet the Norwegian state with its social democratic seems more trustworthy perhaps. What if that data was aggregated by a private company and subtly sold without your prior knowledge?

This is after all common practice in much of the current paradigm (you as the product of a social service), yet the Norwegian state has different incentives and structures to work with these matters. A different state elsewhere may be less inclined. We will see how this information gathering ends up, whether we will end up with sweet honey and bread or will be left with a sour aftertaste.

Regardless we have to realise that each application situated with the given actor in the system it is embedded has to be considered separately — after all this is a case of who would be eligible to hold such immense power. Immense power that we in many cases have given away already.

My greatest wish is that we address this pandemic in the best manner possible, and advances analytics combined with a great deal of critical thinking is required — perhaps that is the bread and honey?