AI and Health Humanities: A Critical Nexus for Race, Data, and Clinical Algorithms

September 14, 2023

Kirsten Ostherr
Kirsten Ostherr

Health Humanities Speaker Series

Start time: 4:00 p.m.

End time: 6:00 p.m

Location: Institute for Contemporary Art (601 W Broad St)

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The Humanities Research Center's Health Humanities Speaker Series will kick off September 14th at the ICA with a lecture from Kirsten Ostherr, media scholar, health researcher, and technology analyst. Reception and networking event to follow.

The release of ChatGPT has produced a flurry of excitement and worry over the impact of AI on almost every facet of life on planet Earth. While efforts to develop AI applications for healthcare have slowly gained momentum over the past decade, the accessibility of consumer-facing tools such as ChatGPT has accelerated interest in the efficiencies and discoveries that AI for health might offer, while also raising alarm over the ethical and legal challenges posed by these algorithms. In addition to regulatory concerns around privacy and liability, the application of AI in medicine raises questions of epistemology that Health Humanities researchers are well positioned to address. Humanities scholars have pointed to the need for interpretive agility, tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty, and narrative humility in healthcare. But how can these principles operate in an environment dominated by data-driven clinical algorithms that depend on binary logic and inflexible data labeling? By examining the status of “race” as a contested signifier in medicine, this talk will map out the ways that critical interventions from the Humanities can advance our understanding of the possibilities and limitations of AI for health. Building on the work of scholars who have examined “race correction” in medicine and racial bias in algorithms outside of healthcare, we will consider how the field of Health Humanities can address the intersection of these issues to increase equity and justice in the healthcare system.


About the Speaker

Kirsten Ostherr, PhD, MPH is the Gladys Louise Fox Professor of English, and Director of the Medical Humanities program at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she is a media scholar, health researcher, and technology analyst. She is founder of the Medical Humanities program (2016-present) and the Medical Futures Lab (2012-present), and Chair of the English Department (2020-present). Her research on trust and privacy in digital health ecosystems has been featured in Marketplace Tech on NPR, The Atlantic, STAT, Slate, The Washington Post, Big Data & Society, Catalyst, and the Journal of Medical Humanities. Her writing about the COVID-19 pandemic has been featured in The Washington Post, STAT, Inside Higher Ed, and American Literature. Kirsten is currently leading a digital health humanities project called “Translational Humanities for Public Health” that identifies humanities-based pandemic responses from around the world to document and help others build upon these creative efforts, and her work was recently profiled in The Lancet.

Kirsten is the author of Medical Visions: Producing the Patient through Film, Television and Imaging Technologies (Oxford, 2013) and Cinematic Prophylaxis: Globalization and Contagion in the Discourse of World Health (Duke, 2005). She is co-editor of a two-part special issue of Reviews in Digital Humanities called, “Race, Health, and Medicine,” editor of Applied Media Studies (Routledge, 2018), and co-editor of Science/Animation, a special issue of the journal Discourse (2016). Kirsten is currently writing two books, The Visual History of Computational Health and Virtual Health. 

Kirsten has extensive experience using human centered design as a technique for patient collaboration in health technology development. She co-created Medicine in the Digital Age on edX, an open, online course that has reached over twenty-five thousand global learners. She has spoken to audiences at the White House, the Department of Health and Human Services, the World Health Organization, the National Library of Medicine, TEDx, the mHealth Summit, Medicine X, the Louisville Innovation Summit, the Bauhaus, and in Germany, Spain, France, England, Sweden, Canada, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

Kirsten received her PhD in American Civilization from Brown University and her MPH in Health Promotion and Behavioral Science from University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston.