Information about people’s health and lifestyles should be opened up to allow major advances to be made in developing artificial intelligence (AI), a report to ministers has recommended.
Industry experts called for the Government to set up a secure system of sharing data, claiming areas where the records are most sensitive are also often the ones where the greatest benefits can be achieved.
The public sector could benefit from the move as well as private technology companies, according to the Growing the Artificial Intelligence Industry in the UK review.
It suggested the NHS could use facts and figures from supermarkets, transport organisations and town planning to work out ways to encourage healthier lifestyles.
The report highlighted how health app Your.MD wants access to data sets of anonymised personal health records from the health service in order to improve its free of charge advice service.
Matteo Berlucchi, chief executive officer, said a “profound understanding of each individual person’s medical profile” was needed.
“Therefore, access to reliable and consistent data sets of anonymised personal health records would give us a tremendous boost towards achieving this goal,” he said.
“We have tried to approach the NHS to see if there was a way to access some of this data but we have struggled to even find the right person to talk to. Navigating a complex organisation like the NHS is an unfathomable task for small startups like Your.MD.
“I strongly believe that the levelling and opening of the access to such vital data is fundamental for the creation and development of groundbreaking AI services in the healthcare sector.
“Government is uniquely positioned to unlock this potential by creating the appropriate data-sharing environment.”
The report makes 18 recommendations on how to make the UK a world leader in AI, including boosting skills through an industry-funded masters programme and increasing diversity in the sector.
It calls for the Alan Turing Institute, named in honour of the wartime codebreaker, to become a national centre for AI and said the Government should expand its support for businesses in the field.
Dame Wendy Hall, professor of computer science at the University of Southampton, who co-chaired the review, said: “I’m particularly keen to ensure that we use it to inform the establishment of initiatives and programmes to help us extract the most value from artificial intelligence for the country; that includes an emphasis on increasing and improving our skill levels to prepare the workforce for the number of jobs the industry will need for the future.
“AI has been around for a very long time as a concept and this latest surge of technological development is likely to see automation continue to escalate and accelerate in every walk of life.
“Now is the time for us all – scientists, researchers, entrepreneurs and the Government – to come together and address the issues about how AI is going to impact society and seek ways to ensure that we’re able to deliver the great breakthroughs the technology has the potential to deliver.”
Investment in research and development over the next four years has been increased by £4.7 billion by the Government.
Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said: “I want the UK to lead the way in artificial intelligence. It has the potential to improve our everyday lives – from healthcare to robots that perform dangerous tasks.
“We already have some of the best minds in the world working on artificial intelligence, and the challenge now is to build a strong partnership with industry and academia to cement our position as the best place in the world to start and grow a digital business.”