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07 August 2023

Project to explore the environmental sustainability of AI-enabled digital health

A new research project led by Dr Gabrielle Samuel, Lecturer in Environmental Justice and Health at King’s, will examine the sustainability of digital healthcare, and guiding principles for the future.

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The project, ‘Exploring digital health promises and practices through a sustainability lens’, will examine the environmental impacts of using Artificial Intelligence (AI)-enabled health, and explore how ethical principles can be integrated to improve the sustainability of these digital health systems.

AI systems are increasingly playing a greater role within healthcare delivery and research – to support decision-making, automate processes and analyse large datasets. However, the environmental impacts of the databases, infrastructures, and software supporting AI are little understood.

We’re really excited to embark on this project. More and more people in the digital health sector are wanting to better understand how to consider issues of sustainability within their work, but they don’t understand how to go about it.

Dr Gabrielle Samuel, Lecturer in Environmental Justice and Health

The 12-month project, led by Dr Samuel from the Department of Global Health & Social Medicine, will investigate the environmental impacts of digital health in the UK and internationally. The team will consider ethical frameworks that can be designed and implemented to better encompass environmental sustainability within digital-health systems and their decision-making processes.

The digital sector produces a significant carbon footprint, predicted to contribute between 2.1% and 3.9% of all emissions, a figure similar to the aviation industry. The sector also generates large amounts of electronic waste (e-waste) containing hazardous materials such as lead, mercury and nickel which pose health risks to people involved in their recycling and disposal.

The project received funding from the King’s Climate and Sustainability seed fund – a £2.5 million investment by King’s to stimulate new research related to climate and sustainability.

We’re hoping that this seed funding will help build a network of interested individuals – both within King’s and outside of academia, national and international - to share ideas, frameworks and best practices; build collaborations; and explore important avenues for further research.

Dr Gabrielle Samuel, Lecturer in Environmental Justice and Health

The researchers plan to build an international interdisciplinary centre for the study of the sustainability of AI-enabled health, to advance research in this new field of study. The centre will aim to communicate insights to stakeholders including researchers, policymakers, healthcare providers and institutions.

Dr Samuel will be leading the project with Dr Federica Lucivero (University of Oxford). Partners of the project include NHS Digital, and colleagues in Canada, India, Australia, and Kenya.

In this story

Gabrielle Samuel

Lecturer in Environmental Justice and Health