Artificial Intelligence and Public Health

Dear colleagues,

Building research capacity to use artificial intelligence in tackling public health challenges will be a priority area for investment at IPPH. Over the past year, our team has been busy organizing efforts to shape an initiative in this space. I’m pleased to share an update with some of the exciting activities we have in development.

This past Fall 2017, IPPH launched a $200,000 planning grant competition (“Artificial Intelligence for Public Health”). This opportunity focused on the development of interdisciplinary partnerships, teams, and grant proposal projects that explore the use of AI to answer public health questions. The notice of decision for these awards is expected to be released in the next week. Following up this effort, towards the end of the funding term, IPPH will hold a workshop for awardees to share their early work, present it to a panel of peers facilitating collaboration, and build relationships. We look forward to seeing the innovative work being done in this area as a result of this opportunity.

Last week we held a workshop in partnership with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR). The workshop served to make introductions and to catalyze connections between AI researchers and public health researchers. To help shape and build this initiative further, workshop participants discussed the challenges surrounding the use of AI in public health, as well as identifying potential opportunities and solutions. From this workshop, we are determining next steps to advance our AI initiative further. One next step is certain: IPPH will continue to support networking opportunities for public health researchers to meet and build productive relationships with AI researchers.

Coinciding with the CIHR-IPPH / CIFAR workshop, I published a joint op-ed in The Globe and Mail with CIFAR President Alan Bernstein on why AI is necessary to tackle public health challenges. We look forward to continuing this partnership with CIFAR as our AI initiative develops further.

Finally, this May, IPPH is hosting a collaborator session at CPHA’s Public Health 2018 Conference. In our session, we will be discussing social challenges surrounding the integration of AI in public health – specifically focused on ethics and equity perspectives. These are important considerations for any researcher, and since the integration of AI in public health is a relatively new endeavor, there are a lot of tough questions to be addressed. Given the nature of our work, public health researchers are uniquely placed to engage with these issues and problem solve for the well-being of our communities. IPPH is equally as interested in supporting research on the ethical, legal, social and cultural challenges presented by AI research as it is funding AI public health research itself.

While we’re only in the very first year of our AI initiative, I’m pleased with the way things are coming together. The responses from the population and public health research community have been enthusiastic. I know that by building our collective AI research capacity and working collaboratively with researchers from other fields in this space, we can further expand our methodological toolbox for addressing the many pressing challenges in population and public health that we see today and will see in the future.


Steven J. Hoffman JD PhD LLD
Scientific Director, CIHR Institute of Population & Public Health
Director, Global Strategy Lab, and
Professor, Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research, York University

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