Change of heart: how algorithms could revolutionise organ donations

Tej Kohli at TheNewEconomy: “Artificial intelligence (AI) and biotechnology are both on an exponential growth trajectory, with the potential to improve how we experience our lives and even to extend life itself. But few have considered how these two frontier technologies could be brought together symbiotically to tackle global health and environmental challenges…

For example, combination technologies could tackle a global health issue such as organ donation. According to the World Health Organisation, an average of around 100,800 solid organ transplants were performed each year as of 2008. Yet, in the US, there are nearly 113,000 people waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, while thousands of good organs are discarded each year. For years, those in need of a kidney transplant had limited options: they either had to find a willing and biologically viable living donor, or wait for a viable deceased donor to show up in their local hospital.

But with enough patients and willing donors, big data and AI make it possible to facilitate far more matches than this one-to-one system allows, through a system of paired kidney donation. Patients can now procure a donor who is not a biological fit and still receive a kidney, because AI can match donors to recipients across a massive array of patient-donor relationships. In fact, a single person who steps forward to donate a kidney – to a loved one or even to a stranger – can set off a domino effect that saves dozens of lives by resolving the missing link in a long chain of pairings….

The moral and ethical implications of today’s frontier technologies are far-reaching. Fundamental questions have not been adequately addressed. How will algorithms weigh the needs of poor and wealthy patients? Should a donor organ be sent to a distant patient – potentially one in a different country – with a low rejection risk or to a nearby patient whose rejection risk is only slightly higher?

These are important questions, but I believe we should get combination technologies up and working, and then decide on the appropriate controls. The matching power of AI means that eight lives could be saved by just one deceased organ donor; innovations in biotechnology could ensure that organs are never wasted. The faster these technologies advance, the more lives we can save…(More)”.