First Principles for Medical Artificial Intelligence

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Medical artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, by their capacity to decipher enormous data sets, identify meaningful patterns beyond what human intelligence can recognize, and in some cases render decisions without human assistance, are poised to transform healthcare. As with any powerful technology, careful ethical analysis is needed if we are to realize the benefits of AI while avoiding its perils. Four available perspectives are recognized. One perspective is technological sentimentalism, which resists novel technologies that seem to displace a more natural way of inhabiting the world. A second perspective is technological messianism, which uncritically welcomes novel technology as intrinsically good and the answer to all human problems. A third perspective, common today, is technological pragmatism, which weighs benefits and risks in a utilitarian framework that emphasizes empirical facts but disregards moral values, considering them to be opinions without consequence or validity. A fourth and preferred perspective is technological responsibilism, which considers not only outcomes but also the moral values laden in the design and implementation of technology. Technological responsibilism respects the deeply human attributes of voluntary responsibility, moral agency, and character. Morally responsible use of AI is needed if healthcare professionals are to sustain their focus, not on technology, but on patients.

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, Christian Bioethics, Ethics of Technology, Medical Technology, Moral Responsibility, Pragmatism, Virtue

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Cite as: William P. Cheshire, Jr., “First Principles for Medical Artificial Intelligence,” Ethics & Medicine 37, no. 2–3 (2021): Early Access.

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About the Author

William P. Cheshire, Jr., MD
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William P. Cheshire, Jr., MD, MA, is Professor of Neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. He is also Senior Fellow in The Center for Bioethics & Human Dignity’s Academy of Fellows. In 2019, the Christian Medical & Dental Associations awarded him Educator of the Year. The views expressed herein are his own and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the professional organizations with which he is affiliated.

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