An artificial intelligence scholar urges technologists to embrace humility

I’ve spent two decades as a researcher and educator in artificial intelligence, drawn to the field by the opportunity to explore the mysteries of perception and cognition. But life is rarely as simple as we’d like, and the arc of my career has paralleled my mother’s escalating health struggles, including a chronic, life-threatening cardiovascular condition. As all-consuming as the world of academia can be, it sometimes feels as if I’ve spent as much time in hospitals as I have in my lab.

I’m happy to report my mother continues to persevere, but her resilience hasn’t been the only silver lining to this ordeal. Years spent in the company of nurses and doctors—unfailingly committed, but perpetually overworked and often sleep deprived—convinced me that the power of AI could radically elevate the way care is delivered. Intelligent sensors could keep tireless watch over patients, automate time-consuming tasks like charting and transcription, and identify lapses in safety protocols as they happen. After all, if AI can safely guide cars along freeways at 70 miles per hour, I wondered, why can’t it help caregivers keep up with the chaos of the healthcare environment?

At the heart of this idea was an obstacle, however. I was proposing research that extended beyond the limits of computer science and into an entirely different field, with decades of literature and traditions stretching back generations. It was clear I needed a collaborator—not just an authority in healthcare, but one with the patience and open-mindedness to help an outsider bring something new to the table. For the first time in my career, success would depend on more than the merits of my work; it would require the humility of researchers like me to recognize the boundaries of our knowledge, and the graciousness of experts in another discipline to help us overcome them.


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