New Grant Competition Calls for Ethical Healthcare AI Projects

Canada is making sure its smartest and most innovative citizens will continue to excel in AI research for years to come.

The federal government has announced the newest topic for their Collaborative Health Research Projects competition: bringing AI, health research and, for the first time, the social sciences and humanities together into research projects. In total, $24 million is on the line to give to scientists and researchers looking to address some of the country’s greatest health challenges. Funding will be awarded in spring 2019.

“Our Government is committed to improving the health of Canadians by leveraging Canada’s technology, research and development fields,” said Ginette Petitpas Taylor, Canada’s Minister of Health. “Our engineers and health scientists continue to push the limits of what we are capable of in our healthcare systems. Today, we are encouraging them to combine their efforts and unlock the power of artificial intelligence to improve health research in Canada.”

One of the more interesting aspects about this new competition is that researchers from the social sciences and humanities are being invited to join teams of traditional scientists to offer a different look into how AI functions in society. This is likely due to the fact that $6 million of the total funding pool is being allotted to projects that investigate the ethical, legal and societal impacts that AI could have in the health sector.

Potential proposals involved in this special call for ethical AI projects must disclose the data sets used in development, specify the AI technique and the transparency it affords (or offer an extremely strong justification if it cannot), and identify any biases associated with the data sources and techniques along with ways to remove them.

When it comes to funding for the ethical AI projects, the most money available (up to $1.2 million) will go to a project involved with human development and youth health.

This is the second time this week that the federal government is placing an emphasis on how AI works from an ethical standpoint. Prime Minister Trudeau recently announced a partnership with France to develop a framework and panel around the potential impacts AI will have on society.

Ethical AI has been front and centre since the growing technology began its exponential growth over the last few years. The Toronto Declaration, unveiled last month, is asking all AI researchers to make sure machine learning does not “reinforce power structures or inequalities on an unprecedented scale and with significant harm to human rights” as it becomes ingrained within nearly every businesses in the near future.

“Canada is home to some of the world’s leading natural scientists and engineers, health researchers, social scientists, and humanities scholars,” said Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science and Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities. “Today’s announcement empowers them to cross boundaries to address some of our most pressing issues in health.”

This new Collaborative Health Research Projects competition was unveiled today at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. Along with it, 30 recipients from the previous competition were also highlighted, showing more health-research inclined projects such as “Injectable collagen matrices for cardiac tissue repair” which received just under $450,000.

AI has been making its way into medtech over the years already. Companies like BenchSci are using AI to analyze antibodies to see what medicine is most effective.