In biomedical research, the analysis of large datasets (Big Data) has become a major driver of innovation and success. ‘Biomedical Big Data’ (BBD) describes the complex and new set of technologically-driven phenomena focusing on analysis of aggregated datasets to improve medical knowledge, public health, clinical care and commercial health and well-being devices and services.
Machine learning and algorithmic categorisation can increasingly make sense of the seemingly endless data emerging from sensors, wearable devices, clinical observations, clinical trials, social and online platforms which provide insight into the behaviours and physiology of individuals. BBD is expected to provide new ways of understanding health and well-being at the level of the individual and society, for example by predicting behaviours, monitoring diseases and outbreaks, and providing risk stratification for individual patients. However, the collection, storage and analysis of BBD potentially raises serious ethical problems which may threaten the huge opportunities it offers.
The Oxford Internet Institute, in association with the Brocher Foundation, hosted a two-day symposium on 14-15 March 2016, bringing together expertise from academia, medicine, industry and the non-profit sector to assess the ethical risks posed by a number of emerging Big Data applications. Risk assessment is an important step in understanding the potential impact (effects and consequences) of any emerging technology. To produce a map of ethical risks pertinent to emerging biomedical Big Data applications. The symposium assessed applications across a variety of research, clinical and commercial domains, including for instance public health surveillance, outbreak and disease prevalence prediction, digital epidemiology, behaviour tracking and profiling.
Outputs of the symposium are forthcoming in an special issue of Philosophy & Technology on ‘Ethics of Biomedical Data Analytics’.