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Healthcare and water sectors hold promise for use of data say ODI leaders


Mark Say Managing Editor

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Nigel Shadbolt
Image source: Sir Nigel Shadbolt. Image from Paul Clarke, CC BY SA 2.0

Senior officials of the Open Data Institute (ODI) have identified healthcare and the water industry as prime areas for further innovation in the use of data.

Executive chair Sir Nigel Shadbolt, president Sir Tim Berners-Lee and managing director Louise Burke were speaking to journalists as part of the organisation’s online ODI Data Summit yesterday.

Asked about the main areas of progress in public services, Shadbolt responded that the experience of the Covid-19 pandemic showed how there could be swift advances in the sharing and linking of data from different sources, in this case supported by temporary legislation.

“There is a really interesting question going forward about how we adjust some of our legislation and regulation to allow that to happen, things like sharing scientific literature, in which the publishers made some of the key data available,” he said.

“One would wish that could continue in some sense, because the wider sharing and linking of data has had a huge effect on identifying what worked, which sub-groups were most at risk, what the co-morbidities were.

“So we think there is a positive set of lessons to draw from the pandemic, and the trick is not to forget them too quickly, not to stand everything down, and to think about lessons that move into other areas.”

Interoperability and portability

Berners-Lee added there is also great potential in standards for interoperability and people’s control of their own data so they could take it on a device into any healthcare setting for a professional to see in providing diagnosis and treatment.

Shadbolt also said: “The ODI has been working with the water sector, which has not got the best of reputations at the moment in terms of emissions, cleanliness and safety, to persuade them that putting their data out there would be a great first step towards everything getting better. That example and the previous one around health would be my two of where we could begin to mobilise things.”

In response to a question on the progress of data ethics and regulation in the application of AI, he suggested there is a need for a balanced approach that is not restrictive but ensures the right questions have been asked about the purpose and operation of algorithms.

“The question when people are thinking about data ethics is what is the application of AI being used for,” he said. “Is it proportionate, do we have consent?”

He added: “It’s more a matter of having government able to interrogate people who have thought about this deeply, not reach for a simple response that isn’t too well considered, but not so dramatic you can’t do anything,” he said.


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