Technology, Healthcare and the Frankenstein Syndrome

April 11, 2012
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Technology in life takes hold

Does Moore’s Law apply to advances in the biological sciences?  Will advances like artificial hips, cardiac pacemakers and spinal stimulators for pain be only the beginning of the realization of how humanity will be “re-engineered”” to take fuller and richer advantage of what science offers us?

Ray Kurzweil certainly thinks so.  So does the venture capital industry and many other thinkers, companies, physicians and patients. A quick trip to Wikipedia fills us in.

Technology in life takes hold

Does Moore’s Law apply to advances in the biological sciences?  Will advances like artificial hips, cardiac pacemakers and spinal stimulators for pain be only the beginning of the realization of how humanity will be “re-engineered”” to take fuller and richer advantage of what science offers us?

Ray Kurzweil certainly thinks so.  So does the venture capital industry and many other thinkers, companies, physicians and patients. A quick trip to Wikipedia fills us in.

 Kurzweil’s technological “singurlarity advances the idea that life is changing at a rate that will soon change the very notion of humanity Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means.  Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood. Proponents of the singularity typically state that an “intelligence explosion  is a key factor of the Singularity where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds.

For some, the future looks like this…

The prospect of replacing aging knees,  new electronic retinas and the electronic control of disease is the true promise of technology and they embrace this innovation with open arms.

For others, prospect of “implantable technologies” conger an image that might be more familiar, but more frightening

Simply stated, will the capacity of medical technology surpass the intellectual capacity of caregivers and patients to make the emotional leap embrace this change?

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What emerges is The Frankenstein Syndrome

And Mashable, it a recent report, advances the “horror”:

Technophobes beware — the Eccerobot may be your worst nightmare. A team of scientists have created arobot inspired by the human build, so it can act more like living, breathing people

The Eccerobot team aims to create robots with bones and joints, making movements more rounded and not so robotic. The idea behind the project is that human capabilities stem from the intricacies of our skeletal and muscular systems.

The Eccerobot, having muscles and bones — forearm rotators and shoulder blades — will allow for complex movements. Copying the mechanics of our intricate bodies, the scientists helped relieve some of the limitations of robotic bodies.

Typical robots are built with standard engineering techniques with stiff parts. Their Eccerobot counterparts with muscles and tendons will be able to walk and move their arms with more speed and rhythm.

“You can use the passive compliance to make it absorb the energy in the right way to allow for safe interaction and to store energy in the muscles to produce fast movement,” explained Hugo Gravato Marques with the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in Switzerland, in a YouTube video.

The completed robot model now is a half-torso that sits on a mobile platform. It has arms with numerous parts that detect strain. Bones are made from a thermoplastic material that morphs into shape with heat. It can hold objects, shake hands and lift its arm smoothly

Other parts include high-speed, high-definition cameras for eyes. For ears, the robot is equipped with an audio-detection system that allows for voice commences. Thinking touch sensory is impossible for robots? Not quite — the researchers have even equipped the Eccerobot with “force-sensitive-resistors” on its fingertips and palms.

The creators of the Eccerobot include the University of Sussex, the Artificial Intelligence Lab of the University of Zurich and the University of Belgrade.

The next step is to improve the robot’s movement, interaction and controlled manipulation. The scientists believe that this will pave way for a new era in robotics, according to Eccerobot.com.

Perhaps the reality is that we two curves to consider.  The first is the rapid–almost exponential–growth in technology and solutions to health.  The “Fantastic Journey” that many watched as a science fiction movie, establishes a real blueprint for today’s practice of medicine.  The implantation, injection and ingestion of technology makes us well…and makes us…bionic, to use another word that is a throwback to a  TV show’s of yesterday.

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The second curve might even be more complicated than the technology itself–the human mind.  The capacity for our emotional thinking to change and adoption is real, but often slow.  Issues such as fear, ignorance, superstition and cultural biases drive action in ways that defy logic.   And add health and illness to this issue and emotion often leads the way.  The sick, those in pain, those who care for loved ones who are ill are all subject to emotional drivers that complicate the decision process.  What’s left is the profound element of the self. The me.  The humanity that, after all, defines us.

But technology isn’t the monster

The reality is that Frankenstein is a myth.  But some medical technology still exist in this context.  And in the final analysis, the monster is the myth itself. Innovation is path forward. However, that path may be obstructed by our fears and ignorance.  It’s time that the technology we embrace and hold in our hands (yep, your smart phone) becomes the mainstream reality of clinical care.  Yet the paths of innovation and emotional adoption may keep these two apart. Only time will tell…