Lord Parry Mitchell, originally published in the Financial Times.
Google’s DeepMind is to be congratulated for the groundbreaking work it has initiated in the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, to develop algorithms to predict critical medical conditions. It is a world leader, based in London and we should take pride in its pioneering achievements. There is however a price to pay.
Because the National Health Service has been in existence since 1948, it possesses tens of millions of patients’ lifetime records: no other country comes close to owning such a treasure trove of longitudinal data. Experts have told me that access to these data assets could be worth tens of billions of pounds to Big Tech companies — sufficient at the very least to plug the hole in the NHS budget.
The NHS as we know is strapped for cash, whereas Big Tech has hundreds of billions of dollars in the bank. The tech companies are highly skilled negotiators and can afford the most talented lawyers and advisers — experience and instinct tell me that it is an unequal contest.
Because of my fears, last month I tabled two amendments to the data protection bill designed to redress the negotiating imbalance. They ensure, among other requirements, that the Information Commissioner is obliged to set out guidelines for public bodies in respect of the value of their public data. On a vote in the House of Lords these amendments were agreed to and are now part of the bill, which will shortly go to the Commons.
I am concerned that Big Tech will lobby to have these amendments overturned and that the government will bow to their wishes. We would do well to remember that the data are ours and that their value belongs to our NHS: we cannot afford to let it slip through our fingers on the cheap.