I cannot wait to stop wasting my time driving cars and focus on my work while my automated vehicle takes me wherever I need to go. But I’m sure I’m going to be nervous in the first few dozens of trips and I will keep my eyes on the road. Disruptive technologies take time to get comfortable with. And when it comes to our health, we are even more cautious.
Let’s see the top scary medical technologies, which will nevertheless bring positive change into our lives when we will eventually get accustomed to them.
1) Blood-drawing robots
Blood tests might be pretty scary even without a robot. It is not only carried out with a needle, but sometimes it also takes a lot of time and more than one attempts until the nurse or the phlebotomist finds the appropriate vein to carry out the procedure. Blood-drawing robots such as Veebot could reduce the whole process to about a minute, and tests show that it can correctly identify the best vein with approximately 83% accuracy, which is about as good as an experienced human phlebotomist.
However, when a phlebotomist sits down to take a blood sample that is a serious issue of trust. When a robot does it, we are going to be nervous. What if something goes wrong? What if the robot cannot stop in time? But after several successful occasions, patients will get used to it, and it is going to be normal not to waste human resources for repetitive tasks that are easy to automate.
2) Surgical robots
Surgical robots have the potential to change how surgeries will be carried out in the future. The industry is about to boom: by 2020, surgical robotics sales are expected to almost double to $6.4 billion.
The example of the da Vinci surgical robot system shows that the device does not replace surgeons, but it rather extends their capabilities and makes them even more precise. At first, it is going to be scary to lay down under the knife of a robotic surgeon. Since you entrust medical professionals with your body, you will have aversions towards a programmable machine without the capacity to make its own decisions. But we have to get used to the fact that surgical robots will make fewer mistakes, while they will be under the control of real surgeons the whole time, since I believe that such robots will become widely accessible soon!
3) Telemedical robots
Doctor shortages are global phenomena. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there is a worldwide shortage of around 4.3 million physicians, nurses, and allied health workers. At the same time, the need for healthcare services is rising: illnesses are becoming easier to catch, civilizational diseases such as diabetes and obesity is on the rise, while aging societies need more and more care.
We will never be able to train as many doctors as we need worldwide. Robots with telemedical devices will certainly appear in more and more clinics and it’s going to be a common element of care to see them in practice. Are you sceptical? Just give it a try! Look at InTouch Health! Through its waste network, patients in remote areas or people who are not able to travel have access to high-quality emergency consultations for stroke, cardiovascular, and burn services in the exact time they need it. MouthWatch introduced the TeleDent service, an all-in-one teledentistry platform, which allows you to capture images, clinical notes, billing codes and send that information to a dentist located miles away.
4) Medical AI “assistants”
Have you ever talked to a chat bot? You should not miss the experience, try cleverbot.com! You will become pretty uncertain about whether you are talking to a human or an algorithm within seconds. It’s creepy. And it’s getting out there in more and more areas of life.
Do you have some troubles with your parking ticket? A 19-year-old British programmer launched a bot last September which is successfully helping people to appeal their parking ticket. It is an “AI lawyer” who can sort out what to do with the received parking ticket based on a few questions. Up until June, the bot has successfully appealed between 160,000 of 250,000 parking tickets in both London and New York, giving it a 64% success rate.
When it becomes mainstream, we will first turn to these algorithms as we turn to the medical assistants of today, when we have some medical problems; and they will only direct us to physicians when physical contact and examination is necessary.
5) Augmented reality
Have you also been washed away with the Pokémon Go craze during the summer? Then you know exactly, how it feels like to deal with a mixture of the real and imagined at the same time in your eyesight. You put on a pair of glasses or your phone in front of your eyes, and you start seeing the real world differently as the device will feed your brain with digital images and videos projected onto real scenes.
In the field of medicine, AR could assist surgeons in the OR, could help in finding veins easier and it could also revolutionize the study of anatomy.
We will definitely see more of the world than what it is and it will take time to find the right balance what you want and don’t want to see. When digital information will appear about someone we just met around their head, we are going to have serious talks about privacy.
6) Virtual reality
Using virtual reality goggles can be a unique and intense experience, which cannot be compared to anything else! That’s the reason why medical professionals believe it has the potential to change healthcare. It already had its grand debut in several medical fields. And that’s why we have to get accustomed to it as soon as possible!
For example, it might be useful for distressing patients and ease their boredom in the hospital. Brennan Spiegel and his team at the Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles introduced VR worlds to their patients to help them release stress and reduce pain. With the special goggles, they could escape the four walls of the hospital and visit amazing landscapes in Iceland, participate in the work of an art studio or swim together with whales in the deep blue ocean.
Exoskeletons are robotic structures that can help a human being move around and lift huge weights. They can also let paralyzed people walk again. For example, a gait-training exoskeleton, an Ekso Bionics suit helped Matt Ficarra, paralyzed from the chest down, walk down the aisle on his wedding day! How amazing is that?
But when we start seeing people walking or even running around in them, we will be surprised how much they will appear as costumes from The Matrix trilogy. No matter how thin exoskeletons will become, we will have to get used to their sight first.
8) Food scanners and printers
Eating is a highly social event. But we don’t know what we eat, what we should eat and how we should eat it. Food scanners and nutrigenomics will change it. The former by telling you the exact ingredients of your meals, and the latter by informing you what food to choose based on your metabolic background. For example, the Nima gluten-sensor was named one of Time Magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2015. It is a portable, nicely designed gadget, which is able to tell you from a small food sample within two minutes, whether the food on your plate contains gluten.
However, food scanners and printers will raise the question how to keep the social component of eating while bringing new technologies to the dining table. We have to get used to these new gadgets; and utilize them consciously, with an awareness of keeping a healthy balance between technology and human contact.
9) Digital tattoos
Today we have a swarm of wearable sensors which gather data about your health parameters. These gadgets are smart, intelligent, to the occasion – but they are also big, hard to use and sometimes it’s really challenging to get lifestyle suggestions out of the data they provide. Soon, real wearable, tiny digital tattoos will become available. The company, MC10 makes microchips that can measure numerous vital signs simultaneously. A biostamp chip called Checklight was added to a skullcap so it could detect if someone sustained a head injury after a collision.
At first it might be scary to have such a tiny device on your body that you hardly even feel, and at the same time it gathers all kinds of data about you – it even forwards to certain persons! It can make people feel really vulnerable towards insurance companies or caregivers. It could constitute a serious invasion of privacy! Making lifestyle choices with Dr. Big Brother in the background will be creepy. Thus we have to be careful and we have to prepare for it with an adequate response!
10) Portable diagnostic devices
It looks cool when Dr. McCoy in Star Trek uses his tricorder device to scan the patient and detect anomalies immediately. When the same is going to happen to us after entering the doctor’s office, we will feel we are being undressed by a device while it only measures vital signs and basic health parameters.
But we are heading towards this phenomenon, so it is worth preparing for it. Although the currently available products (Scanadu Scout, Viatom CheckMe), are far from the tricorder, we will get there soon. You will see high–power microscopes with smartphones, for example, analysing swab samples and photos of skin lesions. Sensors could pick up abnormalities in DNA, or detect antibodies and specific proteins. An electronic nose, an ultrasonic probe, or almost anything we have now could be yoked to a smartphone and augment its features. Get ready for it!
11) Drones delivering medical equipment
I have a small drone I can fly around with a brain sensor. It might sound weird enough but wait until drones deliver your Amazon orders to your doorstep!
Companies are already experimenting with it. When road conditions are bad or help is needed right away, drones could deliver medical equipment such as semi-automatic defibrillators to the required GPS location in seconds. Zipline International, a Silicon Valley start-up is using drones to deliver medicine and blood to patients in Rwanda, and it plans to expand to other countries by the end of the year. In September, the world’s largest shipping company, UPS completed a test delivery of medical supplies via unmanned aircraft from the town of Beverly, Mass., to Children’s Island, located about three miles off the Atlantic coast and unreachable by car.
We should soon take up with the idea of drones delivering products, and get accustomed to the sight of them in the air carrying around bags of medical equipment!
12) Genome sequencing services
Genome tests have been in the spotlight for years. Patients have been able to order such tests online with 23andme, Navigenics or Pathway Genomics since 2005, 2006 and 2007. The basic assumption is that anyone can order a test from home and learn about their risks for certain medical conditions, and what lifestyle choices they should make to avoid them.
I have had four genetic tests and even as a researcher trained in genomics, I was nervous when the results arrived. There are conditions I can do nothing about and getting results about those conditions is really stressful. But the more we learn about our genetic code and predispositions for diseases, the more we can do to prevent them. So I encourage you to order a genome test – and get to know your body from a completely different perspective!
13) AI toys
Cognitoys support the cognitive development of small children with the help of AI in a fun and gentle way. I’m a huge fan of cognitive toys, so I backed their Kickstarter campaign. I had two reasons: I wanted to give a nice gift to my nieces and I also wanted to experience what it is like talking with narrow artificial intelligence algorithm such as IBM Watson.
Cognitoys delivered a slightly weird and insecure feeling of dazzlement about the fact that we humans may not be the only ones able to collect information and connect the dots. I can tell you it’s going to be super weird when your kids tell you that instead of an imaginary friend they have an AI-friend with its own personality. We better prepare for this in time.
Certain technologies can be scary no matter how much they add to our lives or help prevent and treat diseases. We need to prepare for these because when such issues start falling on us every week or so, we are going to burn out or get confused with the technological advances of our era.
By discussing these potential scenarios and the technologies that are coming to our lives, I’m sure we will be able to find the right balance between progressing humanity and keeping what is real.