A magazine for friends of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University.

Doctors Must Understand, Use AI


At Levinger the Lecture, medical AI expert urges students and educators to take the technology seriously.

“If you’re not using it, you’re like those kids who are coming out of college in 1990 and still they’re not learning how to use word processors.”

That was the advice that Isaac Kohane ’81, MD, PhD, P’25, a bioinformatics expert and pediatric endocrinologist who has worked on artificial intelligence applications in medicine since the 1990s, shared with Warren Alpert medical students and educators at a Medical School event on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

Kohane was talking about generative AI—machine learning algorithms that respond to input with uncannily human-like text. He had been invited by the AI in Medicine student group to present as part of the annual Paul Levinger lecture series, which features leaders whose work focuses on the economics of health care.

Speaking to an auditorium packed with medical students, educators, scientists, and members of the public, Kohane aimed to convince the crowd that generative AI should be an urgent reminder that medicine, at its core, is a knowledge-processing discipline.

Kohane, who studied biology and computer science as an undergraduate at Brown, was not one of those Luddite college grads: he was, in fact, a prescient early adopter. He earned a PhD in computer science in the 1980s and integrated computer science and informatics research into his clinical work at Boston Children’s Hospital, developing and applying computational techniques to address disease at multiple scales. He is the founder and chair of Harvard Medical School’s Department of Biomedical Informatics, editor-in-chief of the journal NEJM AI, and a co-author of The AI Revolution in Medicine. Marketing copy for that book described him as “urgently focused on helping doctors become more effective and fulfilled as they work with machine intelligence.”

Kohane came to Brown, he told the medical students, to “stir them up” about AI: “It’s an existential opportunity and threat to medicine to not take this seriously,” he said.

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