The BHBIA 2019 Winter Seminar: “Let’s be Frenemies…. You, Me, and AI”


In December 2019, Richard Hutchings (Senior Research Manager) and Francesca Cooper (Research Executive) attended the BHBIA Winter Seminar in London to learn more about the intriguing topic of “Let’s be Frenemies… You, Me and AI”. Read on below for Francesca’s reflection on this exciting day of speakers and discussion on the theme of robotics, facial recognition, and beyond…

As this was my first market research conference, I was excited by the opportunity to hear from a variety of perspectives about the impact that artificial intelligence and machine learning may have in the future – including the idea of AI developing ‘consciousness’ and the ability to be creative. Having joined HRW’s Innovation Team about a year ago, I’ve been interested in the impact that big data, social listening and virtual reality has in this space and this year’s conference covered all that – and more!

The speakers began by discussing AI in the wider world – whether it be robots with personalities, an AI scouting platform for premier league football, or teaching a computer to paint an image in the style of Van Gogh – clearly emphasising how AI can impact all walks of life. A running theme was how the information we can obtain with big data is exponentially increasing and is much more robust and accurate than human ‘self-reporting’ – a concept that was colourfully demonstrated by Dr Ali Goode, who presented inaccurate statistics of average male genital size as a result of self-reporting.

When discussing healthcare specifically, most described AI’s applicability in diagnosis – with a few mentions of the ability to identify cancerous cells and predict tumour progression. We heard from Dr Andree Bates about an interesting case study using a social listening/facial recognition tool to identify facial patterns for children with a rare (but fatal) genetic condition and dropping online prompts for their parents to seek medical attention.

Throughout the day there were mentions of some familiar market research techniques such as reaction time (to mitigate issues in self-reporting), augmented reality (for device testing), virtual reality (to help respondents make judgements in a future market place) and voice ‘emotion’ processing software (to identify and quantify moods in patient research).

Many of this year’s speakers ended their talk with a caveat that AI is only as good as the data you give it – highlighted with examples such as the Microsoft AI chatbot that had to be disabled after 24 hours due to Twitter users teaching it to be very (very) politically incorrect. While there was an air of optimism for what AI could bring to the healthcare space in the future (such as developing personalised medicine by predicting patient outcomes), we were cautioned by the fact that AI loses accountability and cannot understand the rationale behind trends so ultimately should not be given the final say.

Start to finish, the day was filled with stimulating conversation and the opportunity to meet and engage with a variety of other attendees – and of course a nice get together over the delicious three course meal.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to attend this event and look forward to my next one! Hopefully I will see some, now familiar, faces.

By Francesca Cooper