VA Appoints First-Ever Artificial Intelligence Director

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The move represents a broader push to improve veteran care through AI-enabled solutions.

The Veterans Affairs Department on Wednesday appointed its first director of artificial intelligence as part of a broader push to expand research into the emerging tech.

The agency tapped Dr. Gil Alterovitz, a Harvard Medical School professor and member of the Computational Health Informatics Program at Boston Children’s Hospital, to spearhead its efforts to improve veteran care through AI-enabled solutions. Alterovitz will be based within the agency’s research and development office, according to a blog post on the VA website.

Beyond his professional medical experience, Alterovitz comes to the job with a number of government bona fides under his belt. He served as a presidential innovation fellow in 2017 and recently helped the White House update its national AI research and development strategy. According to his LinkedIn profile, he also sat on the Obama administration’s Precision Medicine Task Force.

In his new role, much of Alterovitz’s work will center on deriving more insights from the troves of data the agency holds on the more than 9 million veterans in its care, according to the department. Because AI can analyze so much information at once, medical professionals see enormous potential for the tech to spur new medical breakthroughs, improve diagnoses and personalize patient treatment.

“That is what you need to do optimal AI—a lot of deep knowledge,” Alterovitz said in the post. “AI is key to really taking advantage of that data to help vets and potentially others, as well.”

According to the post, he’s already leading an effort to connect the department with AI experts in academia and industry, which could ultimately lead to more research collaboration and information sharing. Alterovitz is also taking stock of the various AI projects already underway in different parts of the department, the department wrote.

“Given how health care is evolving, AI is really the only way to move forward in terms of reducing costs and providing better care,” Alterovitz said.