Nov. 21, 2018

Learn what artificial intelligence and big data hold for the future

Experts from across the globe converge for prestigious 2018 Gairdner International Symposium at UCalgary Nov. 30
Clockwise from bottom left: International experts Eyal Oren, Gina Neff and Alan Lopez will present at the 2018 Gairdner Symposium at the University of Calgary Nov. 30.

Clockwise from bottom left: International experts Eyal Oren, Gina Neff and Alan Lopez.

Imagine for a second the Everest-like challenge to quantify the global impact from all the myriad diseases, injuries and risk factors that affect the health of billions of people, with comparisons across age groups and regions. Now imagine doing that without Google, or comprehensive data.

Like Everest, the origin story of the Global Burden of Disease study is enough to take your breath away, and one the University of Calgary will hear Nov. 30 at the 2018 Gairdner International Symposium, Big Data for Health: Expectation. Opportunity. Impact, an international exploration of the future of artificial intelligence and big data, hosted at the Red and White Club by the O’Brien Institute for Public Health at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). This is a free symposium, click here to register. 

“The original Global Burden of Disease study was a two-person effort, estimating what had never been estimated before,” says Dr. Alan Lopez, PhD, a Melbourne Laureate professor and the Rowden-White Chair of Global Health and Burden of Disease Measurement at the University of Melbourne. Lopez was half of that two-person team who conceptualized the study as a systematic measurement of all that ails the world back in the early ’90s when the World Wide Web was in its infancy and data sets were less than accessible.

“We used whatever sources of data two people could identify, calling on the expertise of our colleagues at that time,” says Lopez. In his keynote address at the Gairdner Symposium, Lopez will discuss the history, evolution and future of the Global Burden of Disease study, now recognized as the largest publishing collaboration in science.

More than 3,800 contributors from all over the globe fed into the study, which has grown to cover more than 300 diseases, and injuries, in nearly 200 countries. The study is used by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the World Health Organization, the World Bank, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to guide priorities and spending decisions. The effort garnered Lopez and the other half of his two-person team, Dr. Christopher Murray, MD, the 2018 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award.

2018 Global Health Award: Alan D. Lopez & Christopher J.L. Murray

The 2018 Gairdner Symposium will also feature presentations from Oxford University’s Dr. Gina Neff, PhD, a leading expert on technological disruption and digital transformation, as well as Dr. Eyal Oren, PhD, product manager at Google AI, a division within the multinational behemoth that is focused entirely on artificial intelligence.

The Gairdner Foundation is a non-profit organization that celebrates outstanding achievements in biomedical research around the world.

“Each year the Gairdner Foundation gives out awards for the very best research that impacts human health,” says foundation president and scientific director Dr. Janet Rossant, PhD, who will address the symposium in Calgary. “It’s part of our mission to convene health leaders to discuss important developments in human health, and to engage scientists, students and the public on these topics.”

Several UCalgary experts and members of the O’Brien Institute are on the agenda to provide a snapshot of local work in this space, including Dr. Tyler Williamson, PhD, a biostatistician who leverages machine learning and big data in disease surveillance, particularly primary care electronic medical record data.

When the question around what artificial intelligence might hold for the future of humanity comes up, the conversation turns to his kids.

“If you think about its development, AI is about as well developed as my four-year-old,” he says. “It can detect objects, it can recognize speech, faces, and it can analyze sentiment. For my son, the possibilities of what his life could be are endless. If we ‘raise’ AI correctly, just like my son, it will grow up to be a valuable and contributing member of society.”

There is a flip side to that.

“If I just let my four-year-old raise himself, that would be very dangerous. We have to nurture AI, train it, teach it, correct it and ‘raise’ it responsibly. If we do, it has the opportunity to be as transformative as the invention of electricity, mass assembly, or the steam engine. The opportunity is that big but so are the risks.”

Dr. William Ghali, MD, scientific director of the O’Brien Institute, says the symposium is a unique opportunity for insight into how leaders both international and at the institute are leveraging AI, big data and biometrics in medicine.

“Everybody’s talking about big data, artificial intelligence, data mining — there are a lot of terms being thrown around. This conference is an exciting opportunity to understand what it all means and why it matters,” Ghali says.

Find the complete list of speakers and register for the 2018 International Gairdner Symposium here.

Tyler Williamson is an assistant professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences and a member of the O’Brien Institute and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the CSM.

William Ghali is a professor in the departments of medicine and community health sciences, scientific director of the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta at the CSM.