Today (15 July), the Bank of England announced Alan Turing, the English mathematician who developed influential algorithms and concepts which gave birth to modern computers, will be featured on the new £50 note, to honor his legacy. 

Also known as the Father of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Turing worked at the Bletchley Park, the headquarter of British’s top codebreakers during World War Two and deciphered encrypted messages generated by the German’s Enigma, to give the Allies advantages in the battle. Turing was one of the near 1000 eligible scientists nominated by the public who thought their contributions deserved to be remembered. The vibrancy of the science/technology scene dictates the UK’s determination to advance. 

A new partnership 

In fact, the other pillar of British society, the 70-year-old National Health Service (NHS) had also launched a new unit called NHSX this summer to digitally transformed the present public health system. The new unit hopes both staff and patients will benefit from the latest technology boom. 

Last week, NHS formed a new partnership with Alexa, the virtual assistant developed by Amazon, to bring accurate health information to users and encourage them to have more control over their health. Users can now ask Alexa questions about their symptoms and treatments, in exchange for qualified advice. The partnership is believed to make health information accessible by removing the need to search online. 

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care said over the announcement of this partnership, “We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare and technology like this is a great example of how people can access reliable, world-leading NHS advice from the comfort of their home, reducing the pressure on our hardworking GPs (General Practitioners) and pharmacists”. 

Amazon’s algorithms employ information from the NHS websites to answer individuals’ queries. NHSX asserted over a tweet that it does not pay Amazon for the service. At the time same, there was also a lack of details on how patients’ data are being used. 

The concerns 

In the UK, health data are protected under GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) which clearly states that any form of personal information can only be stored over a definite period of time for specific purposes. However, Amazon Alexa kept a record of all conversations unless someone deliberately deletes them. The voice-assisted technology also automatically transcripts conversations which remains unclear whether they will also be erased when the voice recording is gone. 

The other concerns include prospective patients may delay seeking appropriate help as they overlook certain symptoms. The partnership may be another case of Babylon Health, in which the proposal looks good on paper, but actual adoption is messy and succumb to defects.

Amazon told The Times; it did not profile users based on their health concerns, neither did it share information with third parties. Nevertheless, as Amazon Alexa was not built for healthcare purpose, experts are concerned that highly sensitive information may be leaked to those who are reviewing Alexa voice recording contents or even to family members who are sharing the same device. After all, an individual with questions about his/her own health, should have the rights to know, what is behind the technology which is about to give him/her the answer. 

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Hazel Tang

A science writer with data background and an interest in the current affair, culture, and arts; a no-med from an (almost) all-med family. Follow on Twitter.