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The "growing experimental use" of ChatGPT and similar tools in medical contexts should be halted until pressing concerns are addressed and "clear evidence of benefit" is demonstrated, said the United Nations health agency.
The ongoing failure to adequately regulate artificial intelligence-generated large language model tools is jeopardizing human well-being, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
The WHO lamented that precautions typically taken with regard to any new technology are not being applied consistently when it comes to large language models (LLMs), which use AI to analyze data, create content, and answer questions—often incorrectly. Accordingly, the United Nations agency called for sufficient risk assessments to be conducted and corresponding safeguards implemented before LLMs become entrenched in healthcare.
The "meteoric public diffusion and growing experimental use" of LLMs—including ChatGPT, Bard, Bert, and other platforms that "imitate understanding, processing, and producing human communication"—in medical settings "is generating significant excitement around the potential to support people's health needs," the WHO noted. However, "it is imperative that the risks be examined carefully when using LLMs to improve access to health information, as a decision-support tool, or even to enhance diagnostic capacity in under-resourced settings to protect people's health and reduce inequity."
"Precipitous adoption of untested systems could lead to errors by healthcare workers, cause harm to patients, erode trust in AI, and thereby undermine or delay the potential long-term benefits and uses of such technologies around the world," the agency warned.
Specific concerns identified by the WHO include:
"While committed to harnessing new technologies, including AI and digital health to improve human health, WHO recommends that policymakers ensure patient safety and protection while technology firms work to commercialize LLMs," the agency added. "WHO proposes that these concerns be addressed, and clear evidence of benefit be measured before their widespread use in routine healthcare and medicine—whether by individuals, care providers, or health system administrators and policymakers."
The agency reiterated "the importance of applying ethical principles and appropriate governance, as enumerated in the WHO guidance on the ethics and governance of AI for health, when designing, developing, and deploying AI for health."
The WHO expressed its worries just days after an international group of doctors warned in the peer-reviewed journal BMJ Open Health that AI "could pose an existential threat to humanity" and demanded a moratorium on the development of such technology pending robust regulation.
"While artificial intelligence offers promising solutions in healthcare, it also poses a number of threats to human health and well-being," the physicians and related experts wrote. "With exponential growth in AI research and development, the window of opportunity to avoid serious and potentially existential harms is closing."
Fears of the negative implications of AI in healthcare and other arenas appear to be well-founded. As Common Dreams reported in March, progressives urged the Biden administration to intervene after an investigation showed that Medicare Advantage insurers' use of unregulated AI tools to determine when to end payments for patients' treatments has resulted in the premature termination of coverage for vulnerable seniors.
"Robots should not be making life-or-death decisions," health justice advocate Ady Barkan wrote on social media at the time, as he shared a petition imploring the White House to stop #DeathByAI.
To "avoid economic catastrophe," said Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle, "we must try whatever it takes."
House Democrats on Wednesday formally launched a longshot bid to raise the debt ceiling through a procedural maneuver known as a discharge petition, which would force a floor vote on a debt limit increase without the approval of Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The move came after McCarthy and other congressional leaders sat down with President Joe Biden at the White House on Tuesday, a meeting that did not yield an agreement as Republicans continue to push for steep spending cuts and work requirements that Democratic lawmakers say are cruel nonstarters.
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, filed the discharge petition on Wednesday morning, tellingThe Wall Street Journal that "we must raise the debt ceiling now and avoid economic catastrophe."
“We only have two weeks to go until we may hit the X-date," said Boyle, referring to the Treasury Department's warning that the federal government may no longer be able to pay its bills by June 1 if Congress doesn't increase the debt limit, raising the possibility of a default.
A discharge petition requires at least 218 signatures to force a floor vote, meaning a minimum of five House Republicans would need to join every Democrat in supporting the effort. In a letter to his caucus on Wednesday, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) wrote that it is "imperative that members make every effort to sign the discharge petition today."
"In the next few weeks, at the reckless urging of former President Trump, we confront the possibility that right-wing extremists will intentionally plunge our country into a default crisis," Jeffries wrote. "Emerging from the White House meeting, I am hopeful that a real pathway exists to find an acceptable, bipartisan resolution that prevents a default."
Citing a former House parliamentarian, the Journal noted that "if Democrats gather all the signatures in one day, the earliest the bill could come to the House floor is June 8, assuming the House keeps its current schedule."
"The Senate would then have to pass it, too," the Journal added.
It's not yet clear what legislative language House Democrats intend to attach to the discharge petition.
\u201cNEW: Dems will gather signatures today on the \u201cdischarge petition,\u201d their backup plan to raise the debt ceiling. @RepBrendanBoyle will file the petition at 10am. \n\n@RepJeffries encourages Dems to sign it today. It needs 218 supporters, so at least 5 GOP would need to back it.\u201d— Kyle Stewart (@Kyle Stewart) 1684329222
Boyle acknowledged the discharge petition is "not a high probability move" but said that "we must try whatever it takes."
"I urge my Republican colleagues, especially those who like to call themselves moderate at election time, to join us and ensure America pays its bills," Boyle added.
House Republicans have pushed the U.S. to the brink of default by using the debt ceiling as leverage to pursue sweeping spending cuts to key safety net programs, a massive giveaway to Big Oil, and other right-wing policy goals.
Congressional Democrats and the White House have called for a clean debt ceiling increase, but in recent weeks the president has shown an openness to negotiating with the GOP on spending and work requirements, alarming progressives who say any concessions to hostage-taking House Republicans would be met with backlash.
"Democrats cannot give ground on work requirements in the debt ceiling talks," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted Tuesday. "All work requirements do is limit the availability of food aid for families and hurt poor, marginalized communities—the very people we were elected to defend."
Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) said Tuesday that he could not "in good conscience support a debt ceiling proposal that pushes people into poverty."
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) echoed that position, calling the GOP's proposed work requirements "despicable" and saying she "cannot support a deal that is only about hurting people."
In remarks on Wednesday, Biden said he is "not going to accept any work requirements" that impact "medical health needs of people," an apparent reference to Medicaid.
But the president, who is facing growing pressure to act unliterally to raise the debt limit, added that "it's possible there could be" work requirements for other programs in a possible deal with Republicans, who have advocated additional work mandates for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.
Analysts have warned that the work requirements put forth by the House GOP would strip food aid from millions of people, including many children.
Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) toldSemafor on Tuesday that "we're giving credibility to the Republican Party as hostage-takers by even having these meetings and saying publicly... that we're willing to negotiate on something like SNAP benefits."
"Why are we even giving credibility to a party that has not negotiated anything in good faith?" Bowman asked.
"It's the first time in history that it's more likely than not that we will exceed 1.5°C," said a co-author of a new U.N. report.
Naturally-occurring El Niño events have resulted in hotter global temperatures for thousands of years, but a United Nations agency warned Tuesday that the warming trend that scientists expect to form in the coming months will be intensified by heat-trapping greenhouse gas emissions—likely resulting in an average global temperature that's more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least a year.
"A warming El Niño is expected to develop in the coming months and this will combine with human-induced climate change to push global temperatures into uncharted territory," said Prof. Petteri Taalas, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), as the agency released its Global Annual to Decadal Climate Update ahead of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event.
A global average temperature that exceeds 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels would mean that the planet temporarily grows hotter than the limit specified by the Paris climate agreement.
The WMO report says there is a 66% chance that the annual average global temperature will exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels for at least one year between 2023 and 2027.
"It's the first time in history that it's more likely than not that we will exceed 1.5°C," Adam Scaife of the U.K.'s Met Office, who worked on the report, toldReuters.
As Common Dreamsreported Monday, climate scientists are currently observing trends in the Pacific Ocean that appear "very much like the 1997 and 2015 early stages of a Super El Niño," in which very high temperatures would be recorded near the equator.
El Niño events occur roughly every five years, and the one that appears to be forming now is likely to make at least one of the next five years the warmest on record. The El Niño event that occurred in 2016 contributed to 2016, 2019, and 2020 being the hottest years on record so far.
The WMO report said there is a 98% chance that the upcoming five-year period as a whole will be the warmest in recorded history. There is a 32% likelihood that the five-year mean temperature will exceed the 1.5°C threshold.
Although the breach of the 1.5°C limit is expected to be temporary, Taalas warned that this El Niño event could signal a new pattern.
"This report does not mean that we will permanently exceed the 1.5°C level specified in the Paris Agreement which refers to long-term warming over many years. However, WMO is sounding the alarm that we will breach the 1.5°C level on a temporary basis with increasing frequency,” said Taalas. "This will have far-reaching repercussions for health, food security, water management, and the environment. We need to be prepared."
Scientists and heat experts have begun calling on officials to prepare communities with cooling stations, access to air conditioning equipment, and other measures to cope with the hot weather El Niño is expected to bring.
Prior to 2015, the chance of the annual global average temperature crossing the 1.5°C threshold was "close to zero," according to the WMO. Between 2017 and 2021, scientists recorded a 10% chance.
\u201cChance of temporarily exceeding 1.5\u00b0C global warming: \n\n\ud83d\udfe2 2015 \u2248 0% \n\n\ud83d\udfe1 2017-2021 \u2248 10%\n\n\ud83d\udfe0 2023-2027 \u2248 66%\n\nToday's @WMO report shows we must accelerate action this decade to avoid the worst impacts of #ClimateChange.\u201d— UN Climate Change (@UN Climate Change) 1684333323
"Global mean temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, moving us away further and further away from the climate we are used to," said Dr. Leon Hermanson, a Met Office scientist who led the report.
The report noted that warming in the Arctic is "disproportionately high," which has threatened the collapse of a crucial ocean current system and disrupted weather patterns in the northern hemisphere.
Climate writer Andy Rowell called the WMO's report both "heartbreakingly terrifying and predictable" as the fossil fuel industry and policymakers refuse to heed the warnings of scientists and energy experts, who say the continued extraction of oil and gas have no place on a pathway to avoiding the 1.5°C warming limit.
\u201cHeart-breakingly terrifying and predictable at the same time, but Big Oil just keeps on ignoring the science and drilling your future away. #ClimateEmergency \n\nhttps://t.co/glv9Y3Pyyc\u201d— Andy Rowell (@Andy Rowell) 1684320614