UC Berkeley associate professor of health policy and management Dr. Ziad Obermeyer was named to the 2023 TIME100 AI list, the media company’s annual award for top professionals in the artificial intelligence sector.
Obermeyer’s extensive research primarily focuses on the intersection of machine learning and health, such as aiding doctors’ decision-making process and extensive data analysis. TIME’s announcement Sept. 7, however, highlighted Obermeyer’s work in the dissemination of racial bias in widely-used algorithms.
In a recent study, Obermeyer found that due to Black patients’ unequal access to healthcare, there is a cost disparity between Black and white patients with similar needs — a disparity that algorithms accurately detect and “thus deprioritize Black patients relative to their needs,” he noted.
To address these exacerbated racial biases and pave the way toward access to more equitable care, Obermeyer aimed to fix this biased proxy mechanism known as “label choice bias.”
“Retraining algorithms to predict less biased proxies can turn algorithms into a force for good, redistributing resources to those who need them and reducing disparities rather than perpetuating them,” Obermeyer said in an email.
This is one of the many technological advances Obermeyer has contributed to as a renowned research fellow and emergency doctor. He believes the greatest problem facing health research is the insurance of safe, ethical access to data — so he founded two organizations addressing this need.
Nightingale Open Science, a nonprofit that connects researchers with medical datasets, and Dandelion, an AI innovation platform for health, both work toward making public health data available for researchers and patients while also maintaining patient privacy.
Dr. Michael Lu, dean of UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health, fervently praised Obermeyer’s contributions to addressing accessibility and equity issues within the public health sector.
“What sets Professor Obermeyer’s work apart from the rest is its focus on advancing the social good – how do we leverage AI and new technologies to improve healthcare and not deepen systemic bias, advance health equity and not widen health disparities, improve health for all and not benefit only the wealthy few,” Lu said in an email.
Kimberly MacPherson, co-director of Berkeley Center for Health Technology and faculty director of the School of Public Health, emphasized the importance of recognizing public health professionals within the field of artificial intelligence.
With only about 4% of American healthcare spending allocated to public health, she believes this award will shed light on artificial intelligence as a viable solution to issues, such as doctor shortages and clinical burnout.
“There is so much data out there that could support helping make better decisions on things like equitable resource allocation and spreading best practices,” MacPherson said in an email. “We need thoughtful and balanced approaches to the use of AI in public health and (Obermeyer’s) lens as a practicing physician and data scientist in public health.”
Aware of the potential ramifications of AI-driven solutions, Obermeyer is still “cautiously optimistic” about its effect on public health.
Through continued work in reducing bias and equity issues, he believes artificial intelligence could be key to healthcare advancements and treatment decision making.
“By working to solve real health problems, we can learn a lot about how AI works in general; what it’s great at, where it goes wrong, and how to do better,” Obermeyer said in the email. “Looking at (TIME’s 2023 AI awards) list, there are so many people building for a future where AI helps everyone, and that’s really exciting.”