Part Doctor, Part Machine, All Invasive

By John Salak


Buck Rogers, Barbarella, The Jetsons, Sleeper, Star Wars and Blade Runner—they all foretold the coming of interpersonal robots. Did we listen? Not really. Many, maybe most, tried to bury the idea of interactive humanoids in the deep recesses of our minds.

But then came highly automated production lines, Roombas, know-it-all talking navigation systems, Alexa’s disembodied but reassuringly omnipresent voice and AI-infused robotic sex dolls. They all served notice that humanoid robots weren’t just coming, they had arrived and were bringing lots of their buddies along.

Okay, sure, it was bound to happen. We largely adapted to this new assisted reality. There is space, after all, in the world for all sorts, so long as everyone and everything stays in its lane. I’m mean, robots have their limitations, right?

Not so sure. Simon Fraser University thinks robots may start administering patient-facing medical care, assisting doctors and nurses in their work.

Great, but there’s gotta be limits to what robots can do in a doctor’s office or hospital? Maybe, but not that many, according to Simon Fraser U. Its researchers think advanced 3D sensing technologies built into humanoids with robotic arms that have “fingers” might be able to start checking electrocardiograms, respiration rates, electromyograms and temperatures. They might even be able to collect a patient’s personal information and perhaps start prescribing  medications.

Kind of gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “bend over?” So, let’s accept that humanoids may soon be doing a lot of inquiring, probing, poking, prodding and prescribing. How are fleshy patients going to react and does it matter? It does, especially if a robot is going to take the liberty of poking people. Apparently, acceptance all comes down to whether we see them as intentional or simply machine-like, according to Italian researchers.

There’s the rub. Yes, robo-docs and robo-nurses will probably help do great things to keep us all healthy. But are you going to feel comfortable if a nebbish robot—think Woody Allen in Sleeper—gives you a shot, tells you to drop your pants and cough or prescribes your meds?

 

 

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