Imagine a world void of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, where those once-invincible critters were no longer given a chance to grow because infection patterns in patients were identified and treated before any symptoms appeared. Or what if safety-critical industries like healthcare or transportation were virtually zero risk, thanks to automated decision making and effective pattern recognition by robotic systems? What if cancer found its cure, crime was accurately intercepted, and democracy was given the tools to empower each and every citizen? And what if this was just a fraction of what AI will offer humanity down the line?

The promise of AI is the promise of transformative technology which has unfathomable potential to dramatically improve the lives of millions, if not billions, of humans on planet earth. Says Marie Johnson, Managing Director and Chief Digital Officer for the Centre for Digital Business, “Artificial Intelligence will be central to solving humanity’s grand challenges. Solutions to pressing problems related to health and wellbeing, education, energy, environment, and other domains can be found by capitalising on the unprecedented quantities of data and recent progress in emerging AI technologies.”

A Third Way

Yet, like any powerful emergent technology, AI is in its infancy, caught in the tug-of-war between old and new paradigms that determine human behaviour and activity. Up until now, AI has been seen largely as one of two things: it is either wrapped in the rhetoric of fear, accompanied by visions of a doomsday apocalypse; or it is the connotative agent of big business, leveraged to gain market advantage.

But is there a third way? “What if we could shift the AI debate from ‘worst case’ or ‘business case’ to AI offering us a chance to change the current narrative,” asks the CEO of artificial intelligence company UneeQ, Danny Tomsett. We need to speak the language of unimaginable gain, including big business, envisioning others to embrace the inimitable potential of AI to undergird and enhance humanity.

“We’re heading into a digital future and AI is part of that digital future. But it’s only when we view AI through the lens of its potential for humanity – that we’ll truly understand its power,” he adds.  

Visions Of A Better Future

Thankfully this mission is made easier by countless examples of inspiring work around us.

AI pioneers like Marie Johnson are, together with UneeQ, exploring using digital technology to augment human activity and fulfil functions that have historically fallen through the cracks, due to a lack of consistent and specialised human engagement.  Together, UneeQ and Johnson are exploring the application of artificial intelligence and digital humans in three humanitarian domains which they and expert practitioners believe will have a positive impact on lives: digital humans as reading coaches, cardiac coaches, and in therapeutic settings supporting mental health consumers.

Why these three areas?  All three areas require empathetic conversational engagement, yet are faltering under the unsustainable burden of escalating demand and resource rationing.  As a result, human outcomes are impacted.

The Digital Human Reading Coach

Public education systems worldwide are facing unmatched pressure, with large numbers of teachers and specialist reading coaches retiring in the coming 5-10 years. This critical student-teacher relationship will inevitably suffer in the wake of this collective retirement. Johnson is proposing digital coaches would not replace the skilled human reading coach, but would augment the human team and provide that continuity of experience so desperately required. Collaborating her efforts with UneeQ and other digital partners, along with leaders in the field of education, Johnson is offering an alternative that could turn the tide on global literacy.

Previously, only the wealthy had the means to access a private personalised reading coach. The digital human reading coach concept democratises this access for all.

The Digital Human Cardiac Coach

Digital humans will increasingly become integral to healthcare, as companions and coaches for health consumers, and the digital human cardiac coach will be one of these.

Think about a heart patient’s traumatic and isolating journey back to wellness. Heart attack – surgery – rehab: there is no one person a heart patient regularly converses with day to day. There is no one to help them navigate the complex and ever-changing rules of secondary prevention or to comfort them when they feel alone and afraid.

And as with the specialist education reading coach scenario, there are deep structural resourcing gaps with only 30% of heart patients referred to cardiac rehab. And fewer actually attend.  And even when they do, following the few hours a week for six weeks, cardiac patients feel unsupported and even more frightened.

The end result: repeat surgeries, infirmity or early death at a huge human and financial cost.

The Heart Foundation has stated that “innovative models of cardiac rehabilitation should be considered as current models are not meeting enough patients’ needs…Services need to adapt to patient needs.”

In the new world, our heart patient’s digital human is an invaluable companion and an integral part of his recovery and ongoing wellness.

Digital Humans And Mental Health Support

In the ‘traditional’ resource-impacted environment, monitoring heart patients for depression or having conversations about mental health is almost never done.  And yet, this is a confronting human reality for everyone, regardless of education, culture or age.

Ongoing conversations enable the digital human cardiac coach to monitor for early signs of depression following surgery – and this capability has broad application in mental health support. SimCoach already does this in a limited way although with reported success, looking for signs of PTSD in service veterans.

Stepping up to this challenge, UneeQ believes that digital humans can provide a new dimension of conversational support to mental health consumers.  

In almost every sphere of civil society AI offers a significant opportunity for positive advancement.

Where AI differs from previous technology shifts and accessibility innovations, is that it exponentially changes outcomes and directions in human endeavour.

“Our passion at UneeQ is to steer that process with like-minded partners to see technology align seamlessly with our human faculties. Matching artificial intelligence with human sentience, we can embrace a future that is more equitable, more sustainable and more kind to humanity. It’s a bold and ambitious vision, but it’s the only one worth taking up. And it’s one that we have not only a right, but a responsibility, to defend for others.”