Doctor Alexa? NHS to provide health advice via Amazon’s AI-driven Alexa personal assistant
The National Health Service (NHS) is teaming up with e-commerce giant Amazon to provide health information via its Alexa personal assistant to UK residents.
The announcement, by the Department of Health, will see Alexa answer questions such as “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” or “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?”. It will source the answers from the NHS website.
But the news that people will start providing Alexa with medical information is sure to worry privacy campaigners, alarmed that Amazon keeps user voice recordings indefinitely.
The government believes that the use of Alexa and Amazon’s smart speakers, will help vulnerable patients, especially the elderly, blind and those who cannot access the internet through traditional means, to “get professional, NHS-verified health information in seconds, through simple voice commands.”
The government also touted the move as a “world first” and said it as a way to reduce the pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses.
The government cited the fact that voice search has been increasing rapidly. By 2020, half of all searches are expected to be made through voice-assisted technology, it said.
“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 and pharmacists,” explained Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock.
“Through the NHS Long Term Plan, we want to embrace the advances in technology to build a health and care system that is fit for the future and NHSX will drive this revolution to bring the benefits to every patient, clinician and carer,” said Hancock.
But the news has prompted worry among privacy campaigners, already alarmed at the growing presence of microphones listening to conversations within people’s homes.
Last month for example Amazon was hit with two lawsuits alleging that its Alexa-powered smart speakers are recording children.
Those lawsuits alleged that “Alexa routinely records and voiceprints millions of children without their consent.”
That legal action came after it was reported earlier this year that a global team of people at Amazon reviewed audio clips of people speaking to their Alexa-powered smart speakers, to help improve its functionality.
In May privacy jitters were raised again about Amazon when the e-commerce giant filed a patent that would allow Alexa to record everything a person says, before a wake command is actually issued.
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