Latest information on COVID-19

Symposium will address balancing human, artificial intelligence in medicine

The Presence Center is hosting a daylong symposium April 17 on issues surrounding humans and machines in medicine.

- By Amy Jeter Hansen

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

But Stanford's Abraham Verghese, MD, professor of medicine and the Linda R. Meier and Joan F. Lane Provostial Professor, 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 daylong symposium April 17 for physicians, researchers, technologists, venture capitalists, policy specialists and others interested in discussing issues surrounding humans and machines in medicine. The event will feature talks from speakers with diverse perspectives, including Verghese; Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the School of Medicine; Robert Califf, MD, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration; Eric Topol, MD, founder of the Scripps Translational Science Institute; and Fei-Fei Li, PhD, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab.

Renowned diagnostician Lawrence Tierney, MD, professor of clinical medicine at the University of California-San Francisco, will unpack 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, assistant professor of biomedical informatics research and 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, Chen said.

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, MBA, 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?

“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,” Verghese said.

Information about the event, including registration pricing, is available online. Registration for the event is required.

Stanford Medicine integrates research, medical education and health care at its three institutions - Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford Health Care (formerly Stanford Hospital & Clinics), and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford. For more information, please visit the Office of Communication & Public Affairs site at

2021 ISSUE 2

Unlocking the secrets of the brain

COVID-19 Updates

Stanford Medicine is closely monitoring the outbreak of novel coronavirus (COVID-19). A dedicated page provides the latest information and developments related to the pandemic.