Algorithms: do they run or ruin our lives?

From ‘mutant’ algorithms being blamed for exam chaos to Facebook algorithms ‘actively promoting’ Holocaust denial content, there has been much negative press in recent weeks about the elusive algorithm. But what are they exactly?


They go unnoticed

Believe it or not, we all encounter algorithms daily. When you made that coffee, tied your shoelaces, or drove to work this morning you were using an algorithm.

An algorithm is simply a plan, a set of step-by-step instructions to help solve a problem.

Its clear to see that algorithms run our lives, but do they ruin our lives too?

Good algorithms

Using algorithms for good can be seen in our everyday life.

For example: With very little human involvement algorithms monitor supermarket sales, weather patterns and historical trends to order in new stock. This results in little space in the warehouse and increased profit margins.

Other examples can be seen when you log onto Netflix and certain films are recommended or when you use your sat nav to find a destination but get re-routed due to an accident.

There are even heart-warming stories about how algorithms have helped change our lives for the better, with more and more people meeting their long-term partner via dating apps – those meeting online have a reported lower divorce rate too.

The future of algorithms

The ability of a computer to act and think like a human is no longer reserved for science fiction movies.

It is here. And not just enhancing our lives but saving our lives too.

The government is so convinced in its ability to improve healthcare that it has invested 250 million pounds to transform the prevention, early diagnosis and treatment of chronic disease by 2030.

This investment is based on evidence provided by the likes of Google Health. They recently reported that in one study their artificial intelligence system accurately identified cancer in breast screening mammograms which six radiologists missed.

They did however also have some instances where radiologists spotted signs of breast cancer which the system did not. Although there were fewer incorrect diagnoses and fewer missed cases than radiologists, it demonstrates the importance of using artificial alongside human intelligence.

Google Health themselves see this system as enabling or augmenting their experts, rather than replacing them, and regard it more powerful than being used in silo.

Our take on algorithms

There is arguably no such thing as a bad algorithm. It cannot question its own foundation and is simply calculating the problem which has been input by a human. They are little more than procedures which follow underlying models using inputted data to produce output data.

As the old computer-science saying goes “garbage in, garbage out.”

Here at Priority Digital Health we understand the importance of meshing artificial intelligence with human insight. Algorithms are designed by people and intended to be used by people, but not exclusively. With the right input and right judgement an algorithm, developed by digital health experts as part of a digital solution, can help save our NHS, public health bodies and other workplaces both time and money.

For example, our Priority platform which underpins all our Service offerings, includes a customised holistic assessment which enables patients to complete a range of personalised, nationally accredited lifestyle assessment questions, with multiple referral pathways for each user – these include smoking cessation, weight management and social prescribing services.

The platform has been designed to seamlessly integrate with a range of targeted self-care and behaviour change apps, tools, and resources. It is based on algorithms which intuitively respond to each individual patient’s needs with rules based on the requirements of each individual service.

Similarly, our ‘Priority You’ platform is a digital screening and demand-management solution which enables the triage of patients into – or out of – a GP practice safely and effectively according to their need.

Whilst acting as a gatekeeper for appointment bookings, the solution offers a range of targeted health care professional, self-care, social prescribing, and community healthcare services as alternative options. All based on algorithms again.

How algorithms can help you

Priority Digital Health has a proven track record of working with the NHS and Public Health Teams to create bespoke digital solutions for their communities which are helping people to lead healthier lives and also potentially saving the NHS millions.

Contact us today to see how we can underpin any type of service and request a free demonstration.



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