What Are the Ethical Considerations of Using AI in Public health Communications?

February 14, 2024

AI offers creative possibilities and difficult challenges for communications

Recent developments in artificial intelligence, especially generative AI, offer the promise of better, more efficient, and even more creative ways of working, a promise that is attractive to many workplaces, including overworked and under-resourced communication departments.

While generative AI holds immense potential in enhancing communications across a broad spectrum of uses, it also poses significant challenges for communicators, says Robert Jennings, Executive Director of the National Public Health Information Coalition (NPHIC). “As public health communicators, we are often constrained from leveraging emerging technologies until widespread public acceptance is achieved.”

A leading network of public health communicators in the United States and U.S. territories, NPHIC’s mission is to share knowledge, expertise, and resources to effectively communicate about important health issues to help people lead healthier lives.

There are three issues for public health communicators seeking to take advantage of the benefits of emerging AI-powered tools:

  • Accuracy: While AI can create paragraphs in split seconds, it also can create sources and “facts” out of thin air; when the topic is health, however, information must be accurate in order to ensure public safety.
  • Authority: Should a public health department use content created by AI, a question might be asked: who exactly is the authority behind the information – is it the public health department or organization, for example, or is it the AI itself?
  • Authenticity: How much of a messaging campaign or even basic message must be created or edited by a public health professional, in order for the information to seem authentic from the organization versus a “bot”? This challenge matters more if there is a question of community trust involved.

Launching an Ethical Use of AI in Public Health Communications Working Group

In order to address these challenges, the ARTT project is collaborating with NPHIC to jointly convene a working group throughout 2024. This new Ethical Use of AI in Public Health Communications Working Group will work to develop a set of practical guidelines or best practices for public health communication professionals. The working group is co-chaired by Jennings and our Principal Investigator here at ARTT, Connie Moon Sehat.

For this first version of proposed best practices, members of the working group represent and bring insights from a broad spectrum of public health communications in the United States and its territories. In addition, the working group will have the support of advisory members who are able to offer additional perspectives.

Guidelines proposed by the working group will encompass different AI technologies and actual use cases for communicators. A draft of the guidelines is aimed to be shared for feedback sometime in late 2024 or early 2025.

“We expect that AI will continue to offer creative possibilities and difficult challenges for communications,” says Sehat. “We’re looking forward to bringing the concrete experiences and wisdom of this accomplished group to these ethical questions, not just as a starting point for a larger conversation in public health but indeed, in many public-facing sectors.”

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