Back in in May, Nicholas Wright and I published an article Alexa, What Is a Conflict of Interest? at slate.com. We discussed the potential conflict of interest which arises from your digital assistant both friend and sales robot.
A few weeks after the article was published, there was news, that Amazon had teamed up with the UK's National Health Service and that Alexa would provide medical advice.
In some sense this announcement leapfrogged the concerns stated in our article. With individuals' health and potential life-an-death questions on the table, he stakes are higher. And the pharma-medical industrial complex is historically prone to conflict of interest as recently illustrated by the role of Purdue Pharmta in the US opioid crisis.
I think that there is certainly a positive and productive role for conversational AI and AI in general in the medical field. The mental health chat bot Woebot might serve as an example.
However, the ethical guidelines need to be strong and clear and the conflict of commercial interests and the health interests of the patient must be eliminated.