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The Joint Research Centre (JRC) is the European Commission's science and knowledge service which employs scientists to carry out research in order to provide independent scientific advice and support to EU policy.
This document presents a sectoral analysis of AI in health and healthcare for AI Watch, the knowledge service of the European Commission monitoring the development, uptake and impact of Artificial Intelligence for Europe. Its main aim is to act as a benchmark for future editions of the report to be able to assess the changes in uptake and impact of AI in healthcare over time, in line with the mission of AI Watch. The report recognises that we are still at an early stage in the adoption of AI and that AI offers many opportunities in the short term for improved efficiency in administrative and operational processes and in the medium-long term for clinical applications, patients’ care, and increased citizen empowerment. At the same time, AI applications in this sensitive sector raise many ethical and societal issues and shaping the direction of development so that we can maximise the benefits whilst reducing the risks is a key issue. In the global context, Europe is well positioned with a strong research base and excellent health data, which is the pre-requisite for the development of beneficial AI applications. Where Europe is less well placed is in translating research and innovation into industrial applications and in venture capital funding able to support innovative companies to set themselves up and scale up once successful. There are however noticeable exception as the case of the BioNTech that is leading the development of one of the COVID-19 vaccines. It should also be noted that in AI-enabled health start-ups, many of them are in the area of drug discovery, i.e. the domain of BioNTech. Investment in education and training of the healthcare workforce as well as creating environments for multidisciplinary exchange of knowledge between software developers and health practitioners are other key areas. The report recognizes that there are many important policy developments already in the making that will shape future directions, including the European Strategy for Data which is setting up a common dataspace for health, a riskbased regulatory framework for AI to be put in place by the end of 2020, and the forthcoming launch of the Horizon Europe programme as well the Digital Europe Programme with large investments in AI, computing infrastructure, cybersecurity and training. The COVID-19 crisis has also acted as a booster to the adoption of AI in health and the digital transition of business, research, education and public administration. Furthermore, the unprecedented investments of the Recovery Plan agreed in July 2020 may fuel development in digital technologies and health beyond expectation. We are therefore at the junction of a potentially extraordinary period of change which we will be able to measure in future years against the baseline set by this report.