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AI-Driven Behavior Change Could Transform Health Care

7 minute read
Altman is the CEO and cofounder of OpenAI

Huffington is the founder and CEO of Thrive Global

A staggering 129 million Americans have at least one major chronic disease—and 90% of our $4.1 trillion in annual health care spending goes toward treating these physical and mental-health conditions. That financial and personal toll is only projected to grow.

We know this is unsustainable. But there are solutions, because health outcomes are shaped by more than just medical care or genes. Behavior change can be a miracle drug, both for preventing disease and for optimizing the treatment of disease.

Yes, behavior change is hard. But through hyper-personalization, it’s also something that AI is uniquely positioned to solve.

AI is already greatly accelerating the rate of scientific progress in medicine—offering breakthroughs in drug development, diagnoses, and increasing the rate of scientific progress around diseases like cancer. In fact, OpenAI is partnering with Color Health on an AI copilot to assist doctors in cancer screening and in creating treatment plans after a doctor has made a diagnosis.

But humans are more than medical profiles. Every aspect of our health is deeply influenced by the five foundational daily behaviors of sleep, food, movement, stress management, and social connection. And AI, by using the power of hyper-personalization, can significantly improve these behaviors.

These are the ideas behind Thrive AI Health, the company the OpenAI Startup Fund and Thrive Global are jointly funding to build a customized, hyper-personalized AI health coach that will be available as a mobile app and also within Thrive Global’s enterprise products. It will be trained on the best peer-reviewed science as well as Thrive’s behavior change methodology—including Microsteps, which are tiny daily acts that cumulatively lead to healthier habits. And it will also be trained on the personal biometric, lab, and other medical data you’ve chosen to share with it. It will learn your preferences and patterns across the five behaviors: what conditions allow you to get quality sleep; which foods you love and don’t love; how and when you’re most likely to walk, move, and stretch; and the most effective ways you can reduce stress. Combine that with a superhuman long-term memory, and you have a fully integrated personal AI coach that offers real-time nudges and recommendations unique to you that allows you to take action on your daily behaviors to improve your health.

Read More: Long Waits, Short Appointments, Huge Bills: U.S. Health Care Is Causing Patient Burnout

Consider what it’s like to be a busy professional with diabetes. You might be struggling to manage your blood-sugar levels, often missing meals and exercise due to a hectic schedule. A personalized AI health coach, trained on your medical data and daily routines, could provide timely reminders to take your medication, suggest quick and healthy meal options, and encourage you to take short breaks for exercise.

Most health recommendations at the moment, though important, are generic: your patient portal might send you an automated reminder to get a flu shot or mammogram, or your smartwatch may ping you to breathe or stand. The AI health coach will make possible very precise recommendations tailored to each person: swap your third afternoon soda with water and lemon; go on a 10-minute walk with your child after you pick them up from school at 3:15 p.m.; start your wind-down routine at 10 p.m. since you have to get up at 6 a.m. the next morning to make your flight.

Using AI in this way would also scale and democratize the life-saving benefits of improving daily habits and address growing health inequities. Those with more resources are already in on the power of behavior change, with access to trainers, chefs, and life coaches. But since chronic diseases—like diabetes and cardiovascular disease—are distributed unequally across demographics, a hyper-personalized AI health coach would help make healthy behavior changes easier and more accessible. For instance, it might recommend a healthy, inexpensive recipe that can be quickly made with few ingredients to replace a fast-food dinner.

Health is also what happens between doctor visits. In the same way the New Deal built out physical infrastructure to transform the country, AI will serve as part of the critical infrastructure of a much more effective health care system that supports everyday people’s health in an ongoing way.

This would have an impact not just on our physical health, but on our mental and emotional health as well. When we’re depleted and stressed, we’re more likely to choose options like endless scrolling or emotional eating that might give us a quick dopamine hit, but won’t make us healthy or happy in the long run. With personalized nudges and real-time recommendations across all five behaviors—helping us improve our sleep, reduce sugar and ultra-processed foods, get more movement in our day, lower stress, and increase connection—AI could help us be in a stronger position to make better choices that nourish our mental health. It could also use our health information to make recommendations based on what motivates and inspires us.

Read More: Your Brain Doesn't Want You to Exercise

So much of the conversation around AI has been about how much time it will save us and how productive it will make us. But AI could go well beyond efficiency and optimization to something much more fundamental: improving both our health spans and our lifespans.

How our behaviors can be used to nurture our health and our full humanity is a topic that’s long been of interest to both of us. Arianna has written several books on the subject. Throughout his career, and while building OpenAI, Sam learned the value of prioritizing these five foundational behaviors, including getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising, spending time in nature, and meditating. This has helped him deal with his stress and anxiety and be more able to stay in the eye of the hurricane.

AI-driven diagnostics have already reduced error rates and improved patient outcomes. Now, by focusing AI on healthy behavior promotion and taking advantage of its ability to process potentially several billion data points, we put in our hands a powerful tool for positive change, ensuring technology works for our well-being rather than against it. Incentives are superpowers. And so far, they’ve mostly been used to tap into outrage and increase stress. But by creating new incentives, Thrive AI Health can make it possible for the users’ personal data to be used for their own benefit, helping us all make better decisions and lead healthier lives.

With AI-driven personalized behavior change, we have the chance to finally reverse the trend lines on chronic diseases. Achieving this vision requires collaboration. Policymakers need to create a regulatory environment that fosters AI innovation while safeguarding privacy. Health care providers need to integrate AI into their practices while ensuring that these tools meet rigorous standards for safety and efficacy. And individuals need to be fully empowered through AI coaching to better manage their daily health, with assurances that these technologies are reliable and that their personal health data will be handled responsibly. This collective effort, with robust privacy and security safeguards, can transform health care, benefiting millions of people around the world.

OpenAI and TIME have a licensing and technology agreement that allows OpenAI to access TIME's archives.

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