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An interview with Bart de Witte

Victoria 1.0 is a campaign by the Hippo AI Foundation to develop the largest open dataset for the fight against breast cancer. We are very happy to support this campaign with WeShape!

In an interview, founder Bart de Witte talks about his vision of equal healthcare and his idea for how to get there.

Bart de Witte, Hippo AI | WeShape World

Hello Bart, please introduce your organization in a few sentences.

The Hippo AI Foundation is a non-profit that believes we together as people can build a more sustainable and equitable digital society, where everyone on this planet has access to good health care. We believe that every development of Artificial Intelligence should be accessible to the general public and represent a digital common good. We think a flourishing economy should be based on openness and collaboration, and not on closed medical knowledge and exploitation.

Therefore we foster open innovation for the medical industry and work against the monopolization and privatization of life-saving knowledge, by democratising the development of Artificial Intelligence in healthcare. We do this by putting patients and citizens in the focus of our actions.

How did the idea of your project come about, how did it develop?

I have been working in healthcare and information technology for nearly 2 decades, and always hoped that by digitizing healthcare, we could democratise access to healthcare. When 10 year ago I started working on AI projects at IBM, I discovered how powerful this technology could be and how we could use it to break down costs and inequalities in healthcare.

AI is about bridging the gap between the known and the unknown, which overtime will help us to understand the mechanisms of disease. AI can help us to early detect cancer and discover new innovative therapies to tackle diseases. But to develop an AI system in healthcare you need data, it’s the oxygen that feeds AI systems.

The question on who will own these new lifesaving discoveries generated from the data that is appropriated out of our bodies, is largely related to the question of who can acquire the largest and biggest datasets. The current trajectory is driven by capital investments that lead to exclusive rights over health datasets & algorithms.

My dream of democratising healthcare by applying technology disappeared in thin air. I left my well paid job as a director of digital health at IBM, to build an alternative. As with every social enterprise the first years were extremely hard, and I focussed on research, the narrative to formulate the problem and the solution. I understand that if you want to create AI of the people, by the people and for the people you need to put patients and citizens in the focus of your actions.

With Viktoria 1.0 we launched our first project that focussed on breast cancer. We started our initial awareness campaign last year, and we learned a lot. One year later we attracted amazing research organisations that are supporting our goal to build the largest training dataset for AI in breast cancer. and in order to build these datasets that are protected with an open knowledge license, which means all derived products will be free for use by anyone, we need the support of the people.

I’m convinced we can hack monopolism and build an equitable society that is based on a flourishing economy that is based on openness and collaboration, rather than on exclusive medical knowledge and exploitation, which leads to inequality.

What drives you every day, what are you passionate about?

First and most of all, I want a different and better future for my own children and all generations to come. A future that supports the right to access to healthcare for everyone. Secondly, my geek mindset which is built on the philanthropic version of myself is what drives me today. By doing what the world needs, what I love and what I'm good at, I feel much more fulfilled. Something that helps me to break down the barriers and the walls that want to keep me from building the Hippo AI Foundation.

If you had to name in 3 to 4 key words, in which areas you change the world for the better, what would these three words be?

Healthcare Access Equity

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

The present defines the future and the future is built on the foundation of what we do or not do today. We often are paralyzed by thinking of dystopian futures or get lost in dreaming about utopian futures. But we forget that we can build ourtopia, a vision of the future that is based on shared beliefs and is desirable to all of us. By donating to the Hippo AI Foundation you allow us to build a future that is based on the belief that everyone in the future should get equal access to healthcare.

Thank you for these exciting insights. We are happy that we can support you together with the staff! If you want to know more, you can find detailed information here on the website of Hippo AI Foundation.