Jessica Morley

University of Oxford

“Deploying AI in healthcare is not a new concept—people have been trying to do it in some form or other since the 1950s. But even today, speaking in 2022, the vast majority of uses are in the research phase. The technology is still locked up in labs, in universities, in early research trials. It’s not really being used at scale, in actual frontline care.

“Some would see this as a bad thing, but I see it as a glorious moment in history where we still have time to think about how we want this technology to be deployed. There’s only going to be one moment like it—where we know what the tech can do but we haven’t yet rolled it out at scale—and my mission is to make sure we don’t waste the opportunity.

“I currently have two positions at the University of Oxford, one being the Director of Policy for the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science, and the other as a D.Phil Researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute. In both capacities I’m grappling with the same questions around AI technologies: how do we ensure they are technically feasible, socially acceptable, ethically justifiable, and legally compliant?

Part of Morley’s job is to ensure that the interest groups she works with—from technology to politics and philosophy—are all speaking to each other.

“Healthcare is an amazing dichotomy. On the one hand, you’re dealing with a really, really physical thing—with human bodies, with emotions, with this incredibly personal part of life—but then, on the other hand, you’re dealing with abstraction, with data, with science. This is why deploying AI in healthcare brings up such complicated feelings for people and I’ve become slightly obsessed with how we can better navigate this dichotomy.

“The most important thing for me is that we never lose sight of the person. At its heart, healthcare is one of the most human professions there is. Now, algorithms can absolutely empower diagnostics—they are supremely efficient at finding abnormalities. But they cannot have conversations, they cannot hold a hand, they cannot administer end-of-life care with compassion. In everything we do, we need to make sure these human bonds are not impacted. In fact, AI should be about freeing medical professionals up to focus on these human things. 

“One way that I think we can ensure we’re heading in the right direction is through the concept of pro-ethical design, which was pioneered by my supervisor, Professor Luciano Floridi. If you have ‘ethics by design’, it can be thought of a bit like a speed bump, because everyone experiences that block in the same way—even if you’re an ambulance rushing to save a life. And then there’s ‘pro-ethical design’, which is more like a speed camera. It’s there to add friction to the system, to ensure people really think about their actions and are accountable, but it won’t block good things from happening.

As told to Jonathan Openshaw

About Humanity

Humanity offers a rare glimpse into the fields of precision medicine and artificial intelligence.

Going inside some of the world’s most renowned institutions — from Gustave Roussy to Erlangen, University of Oxford to Mount Sinai — we profile the people driving innovation in science, medicine and technology.

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