This is fascinating stuff. There are clearly real opportunities to use “off the shelf” technology to make it easier for people in rural areas to receive services. I’m particularly interested in how tools like Alexa might make it easier for vulnerable people to live in their own homes for longer in rural areas. There are however ethical issues and downsides as this article identifies. Read on!!

Worried about a lump? Got a nasty cough that won’t budge? Many people Google queries about such symptoms daily – but now they can get NHS advice instantly by asking Amazon’s Alexa.

The voice-activated assistant is now automatically searching NHS web pages to find answers to medical questions.

And the government hopes it will reduce the demand on human doctors.

But the move has split opinion among artificial intelligence (AI) experts and data ethicists.

“The sensitive data holdings of a national healthcare provider like the NHS are a form of ‘critical social infrastructure’,” said Berlin-based tech expert Mathana Stender.

“Yet they’ve been handed to a foreign company that’s both a defence contractor and targeted advertiser,”

NHS GP David Wrigley asked, among other things, whether the questions asked via Alexa would be encrypted and who would store any data relating to patient queries.

Amazon has said all data would be kept confidential.

The NHS has increasingly partnered with private companies to offer access to its services.

Notably, Babylon Health, Push Doctor and Now GP all allow video appointments with GPs to be made remotely.

Babylon Health, for example, says only patients and staff involved in service provision have access to patient medical records.

It adds that all data is encrypted and held in English data centres.

Amazon said multiple layers of authentication would protect the data from UK customers and that all information would be encrypted.

Some commentators felt that the service did not present obvious risks to users’ privacy.

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