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Posts from the ‘Robotics’ Category

Will Robots Take Over Our Jobs In Healthcare?

An excerpt from my new book, My Health: Upgraded:

I teach a course about the future of healthcare to medical, public health, and allied students. In one lecture I ask students to design the future of care. They come up with their own ideas. We talk them through those and design the process of care in real time. Doing this I learn a lot each semester about how students think about the future. I had an older student with a previous degree in economics. He had decided to become a doctor at the age of 30. When I spoke about what jobs robots and algorithms might take in the future, he raised his hand and asked whether robots would take over our jobs in healthcare–with a very worried look on his face.

Surgical robots become increasingly precise each day. Man–size robots can lift and move patients and transport them throughout the hospital. I held a PARO therapeutic robot in my arms. It was cute and calmed me. At a conference I once watched how a diminutive robot made an entire audience dance with it. It only takes the Xenex robot 10 minutes to disinfect a patient room with UV light. A robot called Tug works at hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area. It delivers food and medicine. It picks up waste and laundry. It navigates the halls without crashing into people.

Paro robot

Paro robot

The above student asked about robots, but I think he was really asking about automation. Automation includes robotic devices, robots that look like a human, and algorithms. Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla once said something that resonated within the medical community for a long time. He said that technology would replace 80% of doctors because machines, driven by big data and computational power, would not only be cheaper but more accurate and objective than the average doctor. He added that we eventually wouldn’t need doctors at all.

In 2015 the information technology research firm Gartner predicted that one–third of existing jobs will be replaced by software, robots, and smart machines by 2025. Blue collar as well as white collar workers such as financial and sports reporters, marketers, surgeons, and financial analysts were in danger of being replaced. As Martin Ford outlines in Rise of the Robots, healthcare represented less than 6% in the US economy in 1960. Its share had tripled by 2013. The real issue is not utilizing too many robots but too few. Typically robots are expensive but reduce costs. Medicine and healthcare won’t be able to and should not try to avoid this.

If we look at the history of automation the first wave of machines in the 19th century was better at assembling things than people were. The second wave machines were better at organizing things. Today data analytics, cognitive computers, and self–driving cars suggest that they are better at pattern–recognition.

But both the simplest tasks and the most complicated ones require people. By simplest I mean that there is a greater chance a robot can play chess than go upstairs. By complicated I mean that regarding jobs such as managers, healthcare workers, and others related to education or media; humans are still superior at working with, and caring for others humans. Although, making a diagnosis is cheaper with cognitive computers than doing that alone as physicians.

But whether a robot can make an ethical decision is a huge question. An interesting experiment raised this question. In it a small robot was programmed not to let other robots called human proxies, which represented real people, get into the danger zone on a table game. When only one human proxy approached the danger zone, the robot could successfully thwart it. But when two proxies appeared the robot became confused, and in 14 out of 33 trials it wasted so much time trying to decide that both human proxies fell into the hole. Robots cannot make yet the ethical decisions that characterize experienced physicians.

A Robot companion for the elderly

A Robot companion for the elderly

Automation will make the world better and create opportunities for people clever enough to seize them. But healthcare will change. Tasks and procedures that can be automated should be, and will be. Algorithms will make diagnoses based on quantifiable data better than how humans do it now alone. It is easy to automate the fabrication of equipment or the transportation of patients. The challenge comes when empathy and interpersonal interaction comes into play. Robots won’t approach this level of sophistication for a long time.

To answer my initial question: many jobs will be taken over by robots and automation in the coming years. If people whose jobs are replaced cannot acquire new skills or improve their existing ones, they will no longer have a job. Given this possibility we must constantly question what our best individual skills are and what we can do to improve them. Let’s make sure to attend to those skills that make us irreplaceable.

Read more about other 39 exciting questions in My Health: Upgraded.



5 Reasons Why Humans Is The Best TV Show About The Future of Robot Companions

I love all the branches of science fiction either in books or movies but the favorite kind is when authors and creators depict the future of our lives. We might soon live with robot companions that possess artificial intelligence and they could change how healthcare is delivered too. So far, the 2012 movie Robot & Frank has seemed to be the best example, but now I have a new favorite, Humans. It premiered on Channel 4 and AMC this June and has been receiving positive reviews.

Here is the plot summary:

In a parallel present where the latest must-have gadget for any busy family is a ‘Synth’ – a highly-developed robotic servant that’s so similar to a real human it’s transforming the way we live.


I think there are five reasons why it might be the best TV series ever about our future robot companions.

1) It’s more about characters than science fiction.

When you start using a futuristic device at your home, it gets incorporated into everyday life instead of the technological backround playing the most important role. In this show, characters are better described than the actual technology behind the robot companions. What matters is how we will live with them, not how they will function.

2) These companions are on the verge of becoming conscious.

They possess artificial intelligence, but the desired friendly kind. This is the kind many scientists think we wouldn’t be able to create. The main plot of the show is about a few robots becoming conscious. And this is a crucial issue regarding the future of humanity.

3) There are companions designed for taking care of the elderly.

Some robots are depicted as healthcare professionals that can take care of the elderly at their homes. They have pre-programmed protocols and were designed to make sure those people live a healthy life and get help in emergency.

4) Companions can measure any parameters at home.

It’s not even too futuristic, but those robots can measure any health parameters and vital signs by looking at the patient or touching them for a second. They have all the medical records of the patient and keep the information private.

5) Companions have sexual features too.

Those who think users will not have sexual fantasies about robots that look perfectly like a human are wrong. In the show, this delicate issue is handled properly and honestly. The robots have a special +18 code with which some additional features can be unlocked.

Beautiful scenes, good plot and actors who play robots in a perfect way. Don’t miss it.

Check out the trailer:

The World’s Most Lifelike Robot Prosthetics

Nicky Ashwell was born without her right arm and now she got equipped with Steeper’s bebionic small hand. This seems to be one of the most sophisticated robotic prosthetics out there. For years, Touch Bionics has seemed to be in the forefront but now there are more competitors.

First UK user receives world’s most lifelike bionic hand: Nicky Ashwell becomes first UK user

First UK user receives world’s most lifelike bionic hand: Nicky Ashwell becomes first UK user

Her bionic hand costs about $11,000 and has 337 mechanical parts and 14 precision grips. Its makers want to transform the lives of 3 million amputees. An excerpt from the article:

“I realized that I had been making life challenging for myself when I didn’t need to,” she continued. “The movements now come easily and look natural. I keep finding myself being surprised by the little things, like being able to carry my purse while holding my boyfriend’s hand.”

With such developments (cost goes down while functionalities improve), soon, all prosthetics will be as futuristic as Luke Skywalker’s bionic hand in the trailer of Star Wars Episode VII (at 00:45 in the video below).

Watch A Robot Drawing Blood From Patient

About a year ago, I wrote about a robot prototype made by a company based in California that aims at combining robotics and image-analysis technology so then it can find a good vein in your arm and also draw blood. Well, it seems now it became reality.

Boston Dynamics Showcases Their Robotic “Animal Park”

If you ever wonder where the developments of robotics are heading, check what Boston Dynamics has been working on:

Microrobots Swim Through Bodily Fluids

When I wrote about nanorobots living in our bloodstream and detecting diseases before they could even develop in my new book, The Guide to the Future of Medicine, some readers said that might be a too futuristic concept. Now, here is a great report on Medgadget about microrobots that can swim through bodily fluids. These are developed with the long-term goal of transporting drugs to places in the body we cannot reach now.

A collaboration between scientists in Europe and Israel has developed a novel propulsion system modeled on scallops that can move tiny objects through many of the body’s fluids. The tiny scallop is powered by an external magnetic field that makes the device open and close. Because bodily fluids are typically non-Newtonian, meaning their viscosity changes depending on how fast an object is moving through them, flapping the scallop’s opposing shells at different speeds on the closing than the opening stroke allows it to propel confidently in one direction.


We might be still far away from developing functional nanorobots, but such microrobots definitely represent an important step into that direction.

How Robots Could Help Beat Ebola

I recently had a radio interview on NPR Health about how I think robots could and should be used in dealing with the ebola outbreak.

You can listen to the interview and read my lines here.

A crucial reason Ebola hasn’t taken off more widely in the United States and elsewhere is that it’s spread only by direct human-to-human contact involving bodily fluids. What if technology could create distance between the virus and the health care worker – remove the human touch?



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