Illustrative image for Inside the Lake Nona Impact Forum Q amp A with Vardit Ravitsky

Hastings Center News

Inside the Lake Nona Impact Forum: Q&A with Vardit Ravitsky

Two week ago, Hastings Center President Vardit Ravitsky spoke at the 12th annual Lake Nona Impact Forum, a three-day event that aspires to build “the Wellbeing Ecosystem of the Future, by exploring the intersections of health, wellness, medical and scientific innovation and strategies to optimize human performance.”

Invited speakers included international leaders and innovators in a wide range of domains: medicine and media, government and industry, and technology and academia. Ravitsky spoke at the panel discussion on “AI in Healthcare: Opportunities, Challenges and Ethical Implications” that was moderated by Byron Pitts, Emmy Award-winning co-anchor of NBC News “Nightline,” with Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research & Incubations; Carme Artigas, secretary of State for Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence for the Government of Spain and co-chair of the U.N. High level Advisory Board on AI Risks, Opportunities and Global Governance; and Christopher Longhurst, chief medical officer and chief digital officer, UC San Diego Health and associate dean of UC San Diego School of Medicine.

Ravitsky discussed takeaways from the AI panel, and from the Impact Forum in general with Susan Gilbert, The Hastings Center’s communications director. (The event was not open to the public, and panels were not recorded.)

What did the panel identify as the main opportunities of AI in health care?

The opportunities are immense. AI presents many ways of improving patient care and reducing physician burnout. For example, generative AI can “listen” to clinical conversations between a doctor and a patient and generate a first draft of clinical notes that the doctor can then edit, saving hours of paperwork and allowing health care providers to focus on patient care. Chatbots can support telehealth, by having initial “conversations” with patients to help identify symptoms and suggest next steps.

This sounds great–so what are the challenges?

Well, all this information must be protected and kept private, which can be challenging. We want AI tools to be trained on diverse data, so that they can serve diverse patient populations in an equitable way. But beyond these practical challenges, there are more fundamental, even conceptual, ones. Do patients have a right to know that AI is involved in their care? And to know exactly how? Should patients be asked to provide informed consent to every use of an AI-based tool? Will that even be possible, as AI becomes more pervasive in medicine? Or will AI be all-present to the point that we will forget it is even there, just like we already forget it’s in our phones? And, to me, the most challenging aspect is justice–how should we design the implementation of AI in health care so that everyone can benefit, not only those who are well-off?

What was your main contribution to the panel as a bioethicist?

I pushed against the view of bioethics as a nay-sayers. I think that bioethics is often seen as a field that focuses on risks, not opportunities; as a field that seeks to slow down or even pause innovation. I highlighted it as a necessary facilitator of progress. Bioethics, from my perspective, should often play the role of a how-sayer. It allows us to find ethical ways to move forward for the benefit of all by ensuring that we respect principles and values that protect patients and providers and that promote equity. And perhaps most importantly, bioethics can help build and maintain trust in AI. If patients and clinicians–and the public at large– lose trust, we may see a societal backlash against this technology and we won’t be able to enjoy the benefits it has to offer.

What makes the Impact Forum stand out?

It was truly a unique gathering of thought leaders who are not only committed to innovation on a global scale, but who really think deeply about how to make the world better for people and for communities. I, and many others I spoke to, found the talks exceptionally inspiring. The event is also exquisitely designed to allow networking and facilitate conversations across sectors. You see someone from biotech chatting to someone from the space industry, and a food expert talking to a longevity innovator. Such conversations spark ideas that can really make a difference.

Space? I thought the Impact Forum was about health?

Well, that’s a part of what makes it so interesting. Many sessions were dedicated to issues in biotech, drug discovery, and how to deliver health care effectively. But the event went way beyond and took the most comprehensive approach possible. We talked about food security, space exploration as a solution to pollution, spirituality and well-being, quantum technology and AI, the healing power of art– all aspects of human flourishing. The framing of health was the closest possible to the WHO famously aspirational definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” To me, this was deeply inspiring.

What sessions did you find most fascinating? And which ones surprised you the most?

The sessions about space were fascinating. Bill Nelson, who is the NASA administrator, interviewed Gwynne Shotwell about SpaceX and Jeff Bezos about Blue Origin. Nelson was an astronaut, and he spoke movingly about how seeing Earth from up there inspired him to understand the human condition. Shotwell described how SpaceX develops its technology in an almost playful way, and Bezos surprised everyone by revealing that his entire career and vision stemmed from his summers as a child on his grandpa’s farm because that time taught him how to solve every kind of problem from the ground up by being inventive. These conversations took things that usually seem distant and technical and made them close and human.

The sessions that surprised me the most were the ones led by Sanjay Gupta. In the first session, he interviewed Chef José Andrés about World Central Kitchen, his global organization that feeds the world in times of crisis, such as natural disasters and wars. Chef Andrés has an incredible down-to-earth can-do attitude, and, to everyone’s surprise, is a natural stand-up comedian. Gupta also interviewed his younger brother, Suneel, about his incredible research on the importance of emotional resilience to wellness and achieving sustainable peak performance, which resulted in the book Everyday Dharma. Suneel shared very powerful insights that really resonated with me, and the interaction between the brothers was simply wonderful. Towards the end of the session, they described in a loving way the deep impact that their parents had on their lives. And to everyone’s surprise, they revealed that their parents were in the audience. They called them to stand up and everyone cheered – it was moving beyond words.

What’s your overarching take-home message from the event?

The Impact Forum made me optimistic. Against the backdrop of wars and other crises around the world, it was profoundly inspiring to be reminded of all the good humanity has to offer. It lifted me to listen to those who are truly committed to making the world a better place for all.