It’s the stuff of science fiction: machines that make decisions about who and when to kill. Referred to as “autonomous weapons”, they’re already in use to some degree. But as more sophisticated systems are being developed we wanted to an expert in the field about whether such systems comply with international humanitarian law and what it means for humanity to give machines the power over human life and death.
In a clinic in northeastern Nigeria, a health worker uses an app to help diagnose a young child. The program, known as Almanach, guides him through a thorough exam that looks for symptoms of a wide range of diseases.
“The Almanach tablet has helped me a lot,” says Ahmed Aminou, a community health extension worker Adamawa state. “Prior to its use, there were some tests we did not carry out.”
Better testing means more accurate diagnosis and that means fewer antibiotics and drugs are wasted. “Improvement in diagnostic accuracy [and] reduction in the waste of drugs and reduction in the waste of resources are the three main improvements,” says Dr. Batulu Isa Mohammed, who until recently served as Chairperson of the Adamawa State Primary Health Care Development Agency.
The program also helps state health managers respond to chronic health challenges such as measles, diarrhea, pneumonia, intestinal worms and malnutrition by getting care and medicine where it’s needed most.
Named for its full title, Algorithms for the Management of Childhood Illness, the Almanach programme uses an algorithm to guide clinicians through a diagnostic decisional tree that responds to the data the clinicians input into the app.
Developed by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, Almanach is just one way in which technology is improving care in places where clinics, health workers or medicines are in short supply. Today, Almanach is being used in more than 400 primary healthcare centers and in 2020 recorded over 75,000 clinical visits.