Home > Uncategorized > Rise of the Machines: Robots Replacing Doctors

Rise of the Machines: Robots Replacing Doctors

When I first saw this blog post in the Washington Post, needless to say, I was skeptical.  My mind flashed to the robot maid, Rosie, from The Jetsons in a lab coat  wheeling around the exam room and dispensing antibiotics from her trap door mouth.  But once I got past the outlandish caricature, it really started to make a lot of sense.  Not to oversimplify, but what is medicine if not an input-output algorithm?  You go to the doctor’s office– or SHS if you’re like me and already getting violently sick– where you fill out the medical history forms, sit and play on your iPhone waiting for an available physician or NP, and eventually see someone, tell them your symptoms, wait for them to connect the dots, diagnose, and prescribe.  Quite the process.  But imagine how quick and efficient it would be if all these symptoms were merely combined and cross-referenced against millions of diseases in nanoseconds.  Now, of course, there’s room for error even where machines are concerned:

Machine error at its absolute finest.

but the rate of error does tend to be much lower than their human counterparts.  Furthermore, the applications for surgery far exceed those of diagnosis in my opinion.  Machines are already used in production to great success thanks to their speed, accuracy, and indefatigable nature.   These production robots are designed to perform incredibly precise, ergonomically stressful tasks quickly, accurately, and ad nauseam.  The use of machines such as these in surgery reduces patient risk significantly; surgery robots are programmed to cut to the nanometer and are thus unlikely to nick a vein or vital organ in the process.  For this same reason, robot-assisted surgery involves fewer and smaller incisions resulting in less blood loss, less pain, and quicker healing time.

Regardless of the specific use, there’s no question that robotics in medicine will help both patient and professional.  The speed and efficiency gained from the use of robotics would allow care centers to treat more people more quickly and can even have humanitarian applications by providing supervised medical care in impoverished countries where there simply will never be enough doctors– even with NGOs setting up charity clinics– to treat all those who need it.  The possibilities seem endless so it appears that we’ll just have to sit back and wait for HAL, Bender, and Data to start staffing our urgent care centers.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 6, 2011 at 4:19 am

    I heard about this and thought it was a joke. I have seen so many people struggle with Jeopardy (including at a club meeting tonight) that I thought it was impossible for a machine to beat a person. I saw a clip on TV about it the next day, they said that to practice for the event they made a real studio, asked past questions, and even had other people playing next to him. Every time Watson (the computer) missed a question the creators had to make a new pathway. They say in this video (http://blog.ted.com/2011/02/18/experts-and-ibm-insiders-break-down-watsons-jeopardy-win/) that at first it took Watson three minutes to find a question, and now he can in less than three seconds. The hardest thing for the creators was making Watson understand a question, not just find a keyword but understand the meaning of the question. Watson is going to be used as the next stage for IBM, helping people such as doctors make decision.

  2. October 7, 2011 at 10:48 pm

    I also thought of Watson when I was reading this article. The author was skeptical of the diagnostic applications of computers and robotics; they pointed out the inability of a computer to have a creative thought process that could link bizarre symptoms and furthermore know what to ask. When I was recently at student health, the doctor had asked me to describe my symptoms and began diagnosing me but about half way through, asked “Wait, are you also experiencing this, that, and the other?” and it completely changed her diagnosis in the end. They were symptoms I had either forgotten about in the fluster of it all or ones that I didn’t even really think were relevant. Had this been a computer operated system, I may have simply entered what symptoms I remembered or noticed and gotten a completely wrong treatment as a result. I, however, disagree with the author in that these programs do have the capacity to “learn” and make connections that humans may not (unless they’re House) and diagnose medical rarities that could go untreated. And without the word play and puns often involved in Jeopardy, this might actually be easier for a computer to solve too.

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