‘Alexa, am I having a stroke?’: Amazon’s virtual assistant to give medical advice from NHS database
UK patients will now be able to ask Amazon’s smart assistant, Alexa, for medical advice and receive answers based on their personal National Health Service (NHS) information. The move has prompted both ridicule and praise online.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock, unveiling the plans on Wednesday, argued that since “millions of people already ask Alexa for medical advice,” it was only right that they get this information from the best healthcare advice service – the NHS – however the idea has not gone down well with many on social media.
“Isn't asking Alexa for medical advice a bit like googling symptoms?” one user asked. “Why not just get Alexa to place an order with the funeral directors” and save some time?
Others responded with highly amusing patient-Alexa role play scenarios to highlight possible pitfalls of the voice-activated technology:
“Alexa... my heart.”
“Playing achy breaky heart.”
“No... I'm having a heart attack.”
“Art attack is a '90s children's TV show…”
“Alexa my arm is sore.”
“New alarm set for four.”
“Alexa for the love of f*ck call me an ambulance.”
“Thank you, I will now refer to you as an ambulance.”
Some consumers were simply not “up” for the innovation...
So I’ve just asked Alexa for some medical advice ... 😡 pic.twitter.com/bGIE4WAufM— AngryBritain.com (@AngryBritain) July 10, 2019
...while others saw a touch of Orwell in the gadget’s ability to store sensitive medical information. Though Amazon insists the data will be kept confidential, some commenters raised questions about how secure the information will really be.
Let’s now ask #ALEXA for MEDICAL ADVICE... Folks you are now bollock deep in 1984 🤦🏼♀️🤦🏼♀️🤦🏼♀️ no need for your brain, sell it on eBay... #Google#BigPharma#medicalfreedom#georgeorwellpic.twitter.com/5L8bDCBRXU— Teepee (@teepeecariad) July 10, 2019
Another user similarly predicted that such technology will be used for data-mining in the future: “Alexa will ultimately turn into a toilet that tests your business every day and then gives you medical advice along the lines of ‘See your GP’ or ‘up your iron intake’. Amazon will then flog the data.”
On a more serious note, Dr. Rachel Clarke, author of ‘Your Life In My Hands – a junior doctor's story’, took to Twitter to voice frustration that money would be “handed over” to Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, instead of being directed into “frontline care.”
Some commenters raised the question of accountability, asking: “Who takes responsibility if wrong advice given by Alexa in response to health advice... Would it be Amazon or NHS?”Also on rt.com ‘Many happy tax returns’: Corbyn sends Amazon’s Jeff Bezos a 25th birthday card to remember
Despite the wave of criticism and mockery, the health secretary will be relieved to find that there was some positive feedback to the development in healthcare. Fellow Tory MP Mark Lancaster praised the announcement, claiming it was “a step forward in the digital age.”
Former Brexit Vote Leave campaigner Oliver Norgrove branded it “a cool initiative” and another example of the positive impact of ‘the market’ on innovation.
Amazon hopes the new initiative will benefit patients, particularly the elderly, the blind and those who are unable to access the internet in other ways to empower them to take more control over their healthcare issues, and reduce the burden on the NHS.
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