AI & Ethics

Smart Dementia Wales

Dementia is a term that describes a collection of symptoms that result from damage to the brain. These symptoms can be caused by a number of conditions, the most common of these is Alzheimer’s disease, which is a progressive brain disorder that damages and eventually destroys brain cells. Common symptoms of dementia include memory loss, difficulty remembering routes, and becoming confused in unfamiliar places. Dementia affects over 850,000 people in the UK and the cost to the economy is £23bn per year.  As the UK population ages prevalence in the wider population is expected to increase. Growth is predicted at 40% over the next 12 years.

The ethics of using technology in tracking individuals who are potentially vulnerable and may have reduced mental capacity has been debated considerably. Many support the use of technology to allow safer-walking, others see it as an invasion of human rights.

“Surveillance may confer control” said one study and there are questions regarding who will decide when a person with symptoms is sufficiently impaired to “warrant such control”. In 2016 the debate continues, but there is recent evidence that utilisation of technology is justified as it is for the greater good of both patient, family, and carer.

This study aims to address the ethical dilemma by developing a novel technical solution to seek to privacy issues with an overriding objective of delaying institutional care for as long as possible.

Autonomous algorithms acting like an agent on smart-devices are constructed to make decisions without continuously sharing information. The reasoning will be carried out and documented locally on the mobile device using the context of activity to assess risks to the patient. The results are expected to be adaptable to many other areas of ubiquitous computing, e.g. smart cities and health informatics. Empirical data may be used alongside clinical consultation to aid early medical intervention and pro-active care.

When behaviour is deemed to be anomalous it is thought that the ethical argument changes, an appropriate message (including perhaps location to effect speedy assistance) will be transmitted to a designated recipient.

In conducting the project, the person-centric design of a technological solution engaging with service users will ensure ethical and legal issues are addressed throughout the design and development of the system. The multidisciplinary collaboration sought for this project gives a unique opportunity for synergies in gaining new knowledge.

This project is the subject of a PhD study carried out at the University of South Wales by Steve Williams and supported by KESS and SymlConnect Ltd.


Knowledge Economy Skills Scholarships (KESS 2) is a pan – Wales higher level skills initiative led by Bangor University on behalf of the HE sector in Wales. It is part funded by the Welsh Government’s European Social Fund (EESF) convergence programme for West Wales and the Valleys.