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Research update: collecting data, prepping for a presentation and "COVID-izing" my work

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

Generally when things are quiet on the blog, it means I'm really busy with my research. That's certainly been the case this past month. I've been deep in data collection mode and having some really interesting conversations about ethics with AI researchers working in the healthcare space. I also have to transcribe those conversations in order to code and analyze the data. That's not so interesting and incredibly time consuming even with the assistance of transcription software.

I've also been preparing to present at the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities online conference as part of a panel on artificial intelligence and ethics. Before the pandemic hit, this conference was part of a bigger set of conferences called Congress, which are typically held at one university over the course of a week and encompass a range of disciplines in the humanities. This is only my second presentation at an academic conference and the first online conference I've attended. I'm thinking it will feel more like a webinar than a conference. I'm so glad I attended two real-world conferences earlier this year because I get so much out of the "hallway track" - all of the informal conversations shared around coffee breaks, lunches and in between sessions.

It would have been super weird to present on AI, ethics and healthcare and NOT mention COVID-19, so I've added some COVID specific material to my work. Here's an excerpt from the paper I'll be presenting a CSDH.

The collection and use of healthcare data accelerated in the first quarter of 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the name of public health and safety, actions that seemed unthinkable are now being quickly implemented, often with little or no regulatory oversight or opportunity for public discussion. For example, temperature checks (biometric data) are being implemented in airports, workplaces and retail settings in Canada as a means to screen people for possible infection.[1] This has prompted privacy experts and human rights activists to raise concerns about overreach and discrimination.[2]

In Alberta, a virtual care app offered by Telus and Babylon Health, was endorsed by the provincial government, offering virtual doctor’s visits paid for by Alberta Health.[3] It was implemented without a privacy impact assessment in order to quickly bring it to market and provide healthcare services in keeping with physical distancing. Alberta’s privacy commissioner has now launched an investigation.[4] The Government of Alberta was also the first province to launch a voluntary contract tracing app called Alberta TraceTogether built on technology used in Singapore’s contact tracing app.[5] While some countries such as China and South Korea have seen success in using mandatory contact tracing apps along with other surveillance tools to help control the coronavirus, critics question the value of these apps and whether they are “practical, accurate and technically capable”.[6]

AI is a powerful tool and while there are reasons to be critical and careful in our use of it, choosing not to apply it, especially in the domain of healthcare, also poses a moral dilemma. If AI can deliver on even some of its promises to save lives and improve patient outcomes, there is an opportunity cost in underusing it.[7] This certainly seems to be the case with respect to addressing the coronavirus pandemic. AI technologies can be used directly to help save lives through predicting the spread of the virus and helping protect at risk populations. Indirectly, AI systems also play a role in taking over high-risk activities (contactless deliveries, warehouse work, janitorial work) that allow people to physical distance and shelter in place.[8] We need to be willing to explore how we might build and deploy AI in ways that reduce risks while delivering benefits.

By Katrina Ingram _______

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Ethically Aligned AI is a social enterprise aimed at helping organizations make better choices about designing and deploying technology. Find out more at © 2020 Ethically Aligned AI Inc. All right reserved.

[1] Steacy, L, 2020; Puckett, B., Eckhard, M., 2020 [2] Burke, 2020 [3] CBC News, 2020 [4] Bellefontaine, M. 2020 [5] Mertz, E., 2020 [6] Kelion, 2020; Zastrow, 2020 [7] Floridi et al, 2018 [8] Howard, A. and Borenstein, J., 2020



Bellefontaine, M. (2020, April 21). Alberta Privacy Commissioner investigating Babylon by Telus Health. CBC. Retrieved from -

Burke, A. (2020, May 11) Airline temperature checks raise privacy concerns, experts say. CBC. Retrieved from -

CBC News. (2020, March 20). Telus virtual health-care app touted by Alberta Government sparks outcry from physicians. CBC. Retrieved from -

Floridi, L., Cowls, J., Beltrametti, M., Chatila, R., Chazerand, P., Dignum, V., & Vayena, E. (2018). AI4People-An Ethical Framework for a Good AI Society: Opportunities, Risks, Principles, and Recommendations. Minds and Machines, 28(4), 689–707.

Howard, A. and Borenstein, J. (2020, May 12). AI, Robots and Ethics in the age of COVID-19. MIT Sloan Management Review. Retrieved from -

Kelion, L (2020, April 20). Coronavirus: Why are there doubts over contact-tracing apps? BBC News. Retrieved from -

Mertz, E. (2020, May 1). Alberta launches ABTraceTogether app to improve contact tracing, fight COVID-19 spread. Global News. Retrieved from -

Steacy, L. (2020, April 19) T &T Supermarket starting to check temperatures of shoppers, workers. City News. Retrieved from -


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