Putting explainable AI in context: institutional explanations for medical AI

Mark Theunissen*, Jacob Browning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


There is a current debate about if, and in what sense, machine learning systems used in the medical context need to be explainable. Those arguing in favor contend these systems require post hoc explanations for each individual decision to increase trust and ensure accurate diagnoses. Those arguing against suggest the high accuracy and reliability of the systems is sufficient for providing epistemic justified beliefs without the need for explaining each individual decision. But, as we show, both solutions have limitations—and it is unclear either address the epistemic worries of the medical professionals using these systems. We argue these systems do require an explanation, but an institutional explanation. These types of explanations provide the reasons why the medical professional should rely on the system in practice—that is, they focus on trying to address the epistemic concerns of those using the system in specific contexts and specific occasions. But ensuring that these institutional explanations are fit for purpose means ensuring the institutions designing and deploying these systems are transparent about the assumptions baked into the system. This requires coordination with experts and end-users concerning how it will function in the field, the metrics used to evaluate its accuracy, and the procedures for auditing the system to prevent biases and failures from going unaddressed. We contend this broader explanation is necessary for either post hoc explanations or accuracy scores to be epistemically meaningful to the medical professional, making it possible for them to rely on these systems as effective and useful tools in their practices.
Original languageEnglish
Article number23
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • AI and health
  • Epistemic risk
  • Ethical design
  • Explainable AI


Dive into the research topics of 'Putting explainable AI in context: institutional explanations for medical AI'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this