John Murphy, Founder And Chief Technology Officer of Just Medicine, Wins School of General Studies Medal Of Distinction

John Murphy '72, Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Just Medicine, an Internet application provider that assists in medical diagnoses, received the School of General Studies's prestigious Medal of Distinction at the GS annual alumni dinner in Low Library on April 11.

Abigail Beshkin
April 13, 2000

In the dinner's keynote speech, Murphy outlined the risks involved in advancing technology without a legal and ethical framework for protecting individuals' rights to privacy.

Murphy, an expert in diagnostic technology, said this technology is advancing at such a speed that in many cases it can determine illness more effectively than doctors can. It is conceivable, he said, that within decades, technology will replace medical professionals entirely.

John Murphy epitomizes the vitality and creativity that are the hallmarks of the School of General Studies.

Peter J. Awn, Dean of the School of General Studies

Murphy warned of delivering technology to the public too quickly without a legal and ethical standard to protect peoples' rights to privacy and choice. He challenged institutions of higher learning to create what he calls "technoethics" programs much like the bioethics specialties of the 1970's.

"The systems are racing ahead," he said, predicting that in 20 years "these machines will have the capacity to do everything the human brain can do." Technologies, he added, "are delivered without any thought for how our society will deal with them," and he named privacy as one of the leading concerns now, with software making it increasingly simple to collect data on individuals.

"When will boundaries be drawn between individual liberty and personal privacy?" he asked. "In the U.S., privacy is something that isn't protected under law."

Peter Awn, dean of the School of General Studies, praised Murphy's remarks.

"GS has a long record of attracting talented students whose life experiences enhance the intellectual and social life of the Columbia community," Awn said. "With his dedication to medicine, law and diagnostic technology, John Murphy epitomizes the vitality and creativity that are the hallmarks of the School of General Studies."

The dinner celebrated the GS vision, which is "steeped in Columbia's Ivy League heritage, yet focused so on the future," Awn said.

Awn also awarded the Philip and Ruth Hettleman Award for Junior Faculty to Rachel Adams, cultural studies expert in the English Department, and James Leighton, an associate professor in the Chemistry Department.

Robert Belknap, longtime chair of the Slavic Department, received the Bancroft Award for Distinguished Retiring Faculty, and Helen Evarts, '70, an active member of the School's Dean's Advisory Council, and founder of the GS Annual Dinner, received the Owl Award for alumni service.