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Stanford Presence Center symposium grapples with balancing human and artificial intelligence in medicine

Stanford’s Abraham Verghese believes there should be a more nuanced conversation around what artificial intelligence can do for doctors.

It’s tempting to frame artificial intelligence in medicine as “us vs. them” – with “them” being the machines.

But Stanford’s Abraham Verghese, MD, believes there should be a more nuanced conversation around what technology can do for doctors and how the medical community and other stakeholders can anticipate unexpected changes brought by artificial intelligence.

“The way here is not to think technology versus human,” Verghese said, “but to ask how they come together where the sum can be greater than the parts for an equitable, inclusive, human and humane care and practice in medicine.”

To this end, the Presence Center is hosting a day-long symposium in April for physicians, researchers, technologists, venture capitalists, policy specialists and other interested parties to discuss issues surrounding humans and machines in medicine. The Stanford Department of Medicine is a co-sponsor, and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation provided significant funding.

The event will feature talks from diverse perspectives, including Verghese; Dean Lloyd Minor, MD; Robert Califf, MD, former FDA commissioner; Eric Topol, MD, founder of the Scripps Translational Science Institute; and Fei-Fei Li, PhD, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. One highlight will be renowned clinical diagnostician Lawrence Tierney, MD, unpacking a diagnostic puzzle in real time to illustrate what human experts can do and spur discussion about whether this expertise can be replicated by machines.

It’s important to have a realistic picture of what computers can accomplish, said Jonathan Chen, MD, PhD, co-chair of the symposium’s planning committee:

With machine learning/AI situated at the peak of inflated expectations, we can soften a subsequent crash into a ‘trough of disillusionment’ by fostering a stronger appreciation of the technology’s capabilities and limitations.

Of particular concern is the potential impact of technological advancements on populations who may lack the knowledge, resources or agency to protect themselves from negative effects.

“We hope people will ask: Is the AI solution inclusive? Is it intentionally equitable?” said Sonoo Thadaney, the Presence Center’s executive director.

Additionally, the speakers will explore such questions as: What role can technology play in disseminating expertise? How does one balance the drive for innovation against immediate patient safety? And should people worry about AI systems taking their jobs?

Said Verghese:

The debacle with the electronic medical records and a decade of physician dissatisfaction has shown us that physicians must be at the helm, helping shape the AI solutions to hopefully ensure the intended impact on humans is also considered.

Photo by Pxhere

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