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My “Edith” character from 2013, and Vinod Khosla (again)

Yes, I am Ann Landers. I re-use old posts whenever I can. But in this case I have a reason for doing so, because a fiction story that I wrote in 2013 has the potential to become less fictional.

The story was called “You will still take a cab to the doctor’s office. For a while.” It described a 95 year old woman named Edith and her May 2023 visit to the doctor’s office. She took a cab there:

Edith had booked and paid for the cab a month before the appointment, using the online Gacepple Calendar service. (Gacepple, of course, was the company that resulted from the merger of Google, Facebook, and Apple – the important merger that saved the tech industry in the United States from extinction. But I digress.) An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Anyway, she gets to the doctor’s office. No doctor or nurse is present, but a voice guides her through the quick and painless examination.

!!!SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT SPOILER ALERT!!!

After everything is done, Edith has a question.

“You’ve been very helpful. But I’ve always wondered exactly WHERE you were. If you were in Los Angeles, or in Mississippi, or perhaps in India or China, or perhaps even in one of the low-cost places such as Chad. If you don’t mind my asking, exactly where ARE you?”

“I don’t mind answering the question,” replied the friendly voice, “and I hope you don’t take my response the wrong way, but I’m not really a person as you understand the term. I’m actually an application within the software package that runs the medical center. But my programmers want me to tell you that they’re really happy to serve you, and that Stanford sucks.” The voice paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Edith. You have to forgive the programmers – they’re Berkeley grads.”

As time goes by, this scenario is becoming more and more realistic. We are already working on robot doctors that can navigate down the hall to a patient to take readings.

Meanwhile, Vinod Khosla is working on the other part of the scenario – the part where a software package, rather than a human, does the diagnostic work. I’ve mentioned Khosla before – once in regard to “meat”, and once in regard to medicine. Now, prompted by a Scott Nelson share, it’s time to look at a more recent article about Khosla.

When Khosla looks 10 or 15 years into healthcare’s future, he sees a medical landscape seething with data-hungry, intelligent algorithms like Google’s AlphaGo instead of doctors as we know them today.

“Medicine has improved a lot as a practice,” Khosla said. “But I think it’s time to take this practice of medicine and turn it into the science of medicine.”

To make that happen, Khosla thinks we have to hand medical expertise over to the machines.

Specifically, Khosla wants big data and big databases to do the heavy lifting that no single human could do.

Khosla said you can diagnose disease with a single biomarker—the chemical signature of sickness—or you can diagnose disease by looking at 300 biomarkers. You can look at the patient in front of you and compare them to the last few you’ve seen, or you can scan a database of 100 million patients for the last hundred or thousand with the same condition….

According to Khosla, Medicare patients have seven major conditions on average. Wouldn’t it be better to have AI look at those conditions comprehensively—and one doctor, not seven, talk the results over with the patient?

Note that in Khosla’s case, we would still have doctors around, but they would be hired for their empathy skills, and not necessarily for their ability to read every medical journal.

However, I still think that my model, in which there is no doctor at all, is the more accurate one.

Why?

Because of how business works.

The average American publicly-traded company, when forced to choose between a 100% computerized system with no doctor and a 100% computerizied system with a doctor, will choose the lower cost option.

After all, if you don’t have any employees, then you don’t have to pay for healthcare.

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When knowledge expands

A recent Mel Kleiman post began as follows:

Human knowledge is now doubling every 3.7 years. This means 50 percent of what you now know will be out of date in less than four years.

Let’s focus on the second word of that post. When Kleiman says that knowledge is doubling, is his definition of “knowledge” equivalent to my own?

To clarify, I have consistently used a four-step model from Sujatha Das that discusses data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. Clearly data is always expanding, but is actual knowledge expanding?

Based upon Kleiman’s example, I suspect that we are using the same definition of knowledge.

Just to bring it home, let’s imagine you need open heart surgery. How would you like to have it performed by someone who hadn’t learned anything new about the procedure in the past 48 months?

Open heart surgery requires knowledge. (But it also requires wisdom.)

If knowledge is truly doubling that quickly, this has significant ramifications for how things are done – and, as Kleiman notes, who we get to do these things.

The doctor comes to you – sort of

About a year ago, I wrote a story that appeared in this blog. Since so much time has elapsed, I’ll go ahead and give away the ending. A patient is in a doctor’s office where all of the procedures are performed remotely. After a pleasant appointment, she asks a question:

“You’ve been very helpful. But I’ve always wondered exactly WHERE you were. If you were in Los Angeles, or in Mississippi, or perhaps in India or China, or perhaps even in one of the low-cost places such as Chad. If you don’t mind my asking, exactly where ARE you?”

Drumroll please – or perhaps the scary music.

“I don’t mind answering the question,” replied the friendly voice, “and I hope you don’t take my response the wrong way, but I’m not really a person as you understand the term. I’m actually an application within the software package that runs the medical center. But my programmers want me to tell you that they’re really happy to serve you, and that Stanford sucks.” The voice paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Edith. You have to forgive the programmers – they’re Berkeley grads.”

Naturally, it’s going to take some time before software can intelligently perform an array of diagnostic tasks. But we’re getting there, and the machines have already mastered one important skill – navigating down the hall.

With a simple push of an iPad button, [Dr. Robert] Vespa can send the robot gliding down the hall to a patient’s room. Equipped with 30 sensors that enable the it to “see” when its route is blocked by a gurney or curious bystander, EVA possesses the intelligence to self-correct and plot a detour to its destination.

After the robot reaches a patient’s bedside, Vespa can examine the patient in real time. A two-way video monitor in EVA’s “face” enables the patient and doctor to see and hear each other. A 120x zoom capacity allows Vespa to magnify a single word on the patient’s chart or zero in on the patient’s eyes to check for dilated pupils.

As of now, the robot is still under the control of the doctor.

Give it time.

(Thanks to Robert G. Male for sharing something that led me to this May 2013 UCLA news release.)

The man of the future, re-visualized

Larry Rosenthal shared something, and as is his wont, he added a brief comment. In this case, his comment was “geekbot 3000.”

I have a slightly different view about the post that Rosenthal shared, a post from the Future and Cosmos blog entitled The Man of the Future Visualized. The author, M Mahin, took some time to gather up the latest thinking about how technology can enhance our bodies.

And before some of you complain that cyborg body enhancements should never be pursued, remember that we’ve been enhancing our bodies for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. For example, I wear glasses. Now my glasses may not handle Foursquare checkins, but they allow my body to do things that it could not otherwise do. To a point, I have no problem with enhancing my body to make it better.

To a point.

However, when deciding whether or not to implement a particular body enhancement, it is wise to look at both the advantages and the disadvantages of such a move. Now perhaps it was beyond M Mahin’s scope to analyze this, but it’s certainly something that you should do before you plunk down your six million dollars to buy the Cyborg belt and its accessories.

Let me look at two examples of body enhancements cited by Mahin. Here’s one of them:

The Cyborg Belt … serves as a monitor of all of the future man’s bodily functions. The future man does not have to go to a doctor for a physical examination to find out how his body is doing. He need merely look down at the vital signs display on his belt. If there is any medical problem such as high blood pressure, cancer, or high cholesterol, the vital signs indicator on the Cyborg Belt will alert the man with a flash of warning messages.

There’s only one thing that is not mentioned. Yes, the vital signs indicator will alert the man to medical issues. But others will be alerted also.

You can guarantee that if some entity is going to pay a lot of money to implant a medical monitoring system in your body, then at a very minimum all of the readings will go to your health insurance provider.

Why? Because your health provider will NEED this information to take care of you properly. After all, you are not the trained medical professional; your health insurance provider is.

And it’s also a near-guarantee that the readings will also go to your national medical governmental agency – in my country, the Department of Health and Human Services. Or perhaps to the Food and Drug Administration. Or perhaps to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Why? Because various government agencies are mandated by law to ensure that citizens take care of themselves properly. In past generations, governments could pass laws (or try to pass laws) to accomplish these goals – ending child labor, prohibiting alcoholic beverages, prohibiting the purchase or large sugared soft drinks. Now with a Cyborg Belt, government agencies will actually have the power to enforce these laws. Smoke that crack, eat that double cheeseburger…you WILL be corrected.

But that pales in comparison to one of the other body enhancements:

The orange arrow points to the future man’s Supercard. The Supercard is like an identification card, a credit card, a bank ATM card, and a passport, all rolled into one. The Supercard is embedded into the future man’s flesh, so there is no chance of him losing it. It is good that the future man cannot lose his Supercard, because if he lost it, it would be impossible for him to function in the complicated society in which he lives. Since every future citizen has his Supercard embedded into his flesh above his wrist, there is no danger of one person pretending to be another.

Now if you’ll excuse me for a moment, I am going to quote a passage from the Biblical book of Revelation – specifically, Revelation 13:16-17:

Also it [the second beast] causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name.

Now I realize that many of my readers do not believe that this is a divinely inspired sentence, and that even those who do believe so have a number of interpretations of what these words actually mean.

So, bearing in mind that there are over six hundred and sixty views of the words above, what’s wrong with such a system?

A universal mandatory financial system such as this will only work if the governing body managing it is good. Now the Bible, of course, takes it as a given that this particular financial system is being run by someone who is VERY bad. And a non-Christian who happens to be a libertarian or an anarchist would also conclude that such a system is a recipe for disaster.

But even if you believe that one world government is a good thing, it is clear that such a system would need a huge number of built in safeguards to prevent abuse, since one little infiltration of the system could create economic chaos, and could literally result in death and destruction.

You know the safeguards that Microsoft has built in to ensure that the monthly Windows patch distributions don’t turn all of our computers into terroristic zombies? Well, a worldwide universal financial system would need safeguards that are six hundred and sixty orders (or more) of magnitude beyond what Microsoft does today.

And that’s just two examples. If you go through the entire list of body enhancements, you can find positive aspects to them…and negative aspects to them.

Of course, this is true of any technological advance. They all come with positives and negatives. But before we all become Steve Austins, we need to consider the ramifications of such a move.

Why are some revolutions imperceptible?

I recently read something by Jim Ulvog, which referenced something written by Matthew Yglesias. But before I talk about what they wrote, I’d like to share an example of what they were both talking about.

When I first entered the fingerprint identification industry in 1994, the computational power required for fingerprint encoding and matching exceeded the capabilities of the general-purpose computers available at the time – even high end computers from Digital Equipment Corporation. Because of this, my employer had to build special-purpose cards to insert into these computers to allow them to keep up with the computations that were required. I was writing proposals at the time, and spent a lot of time enthusing about the fact that these special cards were much smaller than the ones used in the prior generation of automated fingerprint identification systems. Because of this small size, I wrote at the time, these products – Printrak’s “Fingerprint Processor 2000” and “Minutiae Matcher 2000” – were truly revolutionary.

Within a few years, the computational power of computers had increased, and Printrak was able to do away with the Fingerprint Processor 2000 and the Minutiae Matcher 2000 altogether. We no longer needed special purpose boards to crank out these processes – and, as an added bonus, some of the computers didn’t have to be expensive Digital Equipment Corporation computers any more. We could buy a computer from Compaq (which, coincidentally, purchased Digital Equipment Corporation), and this computer was completely capable of performing all of the fingerprint processing without any special card.

This completely revolutionized the automated fingerprint identification system industry, since it was now possible to use general purpose computers for fingerprint identification. Rather than depending upon the AFIS vendors such as Printrak to provide souped-up computers, government agencies could (if they wished) now buy the computers themselves, from the same purchasing schedules that they used to purchase their other computers.

A huge revolution, but most of you never heard about it. Why not? Because the automated fingerprint identification industry was, and is, extremely small. The four leading AFIS vendors in the 1990s had aggregated annual revenues of much less than US$1 billion dollars. So it’s safe to say that Printrak’s reduced need for DEC computers was not the catalyst that sent DEC into the arms of Compaq.

Back to Ulvog and Yglesias. Ulvog’s post Impact of the technology revolution has barely begun states that the recent technology revolutions have taken place in industries that don’t play a huge role in the economy. But when technology changes impact larger industries – Ulvog cites education and health care as two examples – then we’ll REALLY see changes.

Ulvog’s thoughts on this were crystallized when he read Yglesias’ article, Why I’m Optimistic About Growth and Innovation. Yglesias begins by talking about a huge technological change that took place several hundred years ago – yet at the time, that change was imperceptible to the broader public.

A printing press based on movable type, for example, was an enormous boon to productivity in the book manufacturing sector. It had almost no impact on economy-wide productivity, however, simply because the book manufacturing sector of 17th-century Europe was trivially small.

So when, according to Yglesias, did the Industrial Revolution really take hold? When technological changes were applied to a much more important industry – apparel manufacturing.

In a similar manner, Yglesias (and Ulvog) note that recent technological changes have occurred in industries such as journalism and music. “But,” you argue, “journalism and music are HUGE. Rupert Murdoch and the music company heads control huge companies.”

Not really.

Take a look at the 2012 Fortune 500. This list doesn’t measure companies based upon stock valuation; it measures companies based upon actual revenue. (An argument could be made that profit is more important than revenue, but I don’t think that a ranking by profit will significantly impact my point here.)

Number one on the list? Not a journalism company. Not a music company. Number one on the list was ExxonMobil, with over $450 billion in revenue.

Number two was WalMart, with revenue of over $445 billion. Yes, they sell music – along with everything else under the sun.

You have to go through a number of companies – other oil companies, auto companies, banks, health firms, diversified companies such as Berkshire Hathaway – before you get to a company that makes a substantial amount of its revenue from journalism or music. That company, News Corp (Murdoch’s firm) is 91st in the Fortune 500, with revenue of about $33.4 billion – or an order of magnitude lower than the revenue of an ExxonMobil or a WalMart. Time Warner, by the way, is 103rd at about $29 billion.

So, for example, if News Corp and Time Warner were both to be completely devastated by technological change, and were to be liquidated, it would cause some discomfort. But if ExxonMobil, Chevon, or ConocoPhillips were to be liquidated, we’d probably be plunged into another Great Depression.

This is one of the reasons why Jim Ulvog talks about the oil industry so much. In his post, he provides this example:

…the astounding ability to change direction on a drill and control its location 10,000 feet underground and out 10,000 feet horizontally from there. Could you push a 20,000 foot piece of steel piping through solid rock and have the tip be exactly where you want it to be, plus or minus a few feet?

What has this technology – and others – done?

Turned North Dakota into the second largest oil-producing state in the country. More than Alaska or California.

Put US oil production back to where it was over 20 years ago.

Makes it a reasonable possibility the US could be a net energy *exporter* in a decade or so. An exporter.

And that’s going to make a bigger difference in our lives than the New York Times’ efforts to work out a monetization model. Not that this isn’t important – I know a number of journalists who have been displaced or adversely affected by change, and it’s undeniable that the music industry is changing. But a $1 per gallon increase of decrease in the cost of gasoline will have a huge impact on the ENTIRE economy.

But where is the doctor?

I recently wrote a futuristic post in which most of the medical examination process is automated. One of my sources for the post was this VentureBeat piece that referenced the views of Vinod Klosla.

Accomplished Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla likens modern healthcare to witchcraft, and says technology will replace 80 percent of doctors….

Khosla said that machines, driven by large data sets and computations power, not only would be cheaper, more accurate and objective, but better than the average doctor.

Khosla made his remarks at a Health Innovation Summit, which was naturally attended by a number of doctors.

These remarks were about as successful as Ronald Reagan’s 1975 suggestion that Social Security be made voluntary – a suggestion that cost Reagan the Florida primary. Reagan lost because of the self-interest of older Florida voters, who felt that fewer young participants in Social Security would endanger their own benefits.

And there is certainly evidence of self-interest in the debate about health care. Khosla himself is an investor in medical technology companies, and would naturally benefit if these companies (rather than doctors) were handling medical needs. The doctors, who do not want to be unemployed, obviously took offense; one was reportedly “nauseated” by Khosla’s remarks. (I’m not sure how the doctor remedied the nausea.)

And there are other self interests out there, as evidenced by those who warn against the great doctor shortage.

With a growing, aging population, the demand for physicians will intensify over the coming years. According to AAMC estimates, the United States faces a shortage of more than 90,000 physicians by 2020—a number that will grow to more than 130,000 by 2025.

Needless to say, AAMC has a solution for this – increases in residency training. By the way, AAMC stands for the Association of American Medical Colleges.

However, AAMC probably does not represent the interests of another group.

At present, Belize is home to four offshore medical schools. These and other offshore medical schools in the Caribbean target students, who although they may be motivated and talented, cannot get admission to med school in the U.S.

And I haven’t even touched upon the basic composition of the death squads in the United States. Some argue that “Obamacare” will result in “death squads” of government officials who will make life or death decisions. This, of course, is contrary to the current system of privately-owned “death squads,” in which private companies deny benefits and thus make life or death decisions. Not surprisingly, some doctors who aren’t getting paid by either the government or by the insurance companies have taken matters into their own hands:

“About four years ago, one insurance company was driving me crazy saying I had to fax documents to show I had done a visit,” said Stanford Owen, an internal medical doctor in Gulfport, Miss. “At 2 a.m., I woke up and said, ‘This is it.’ ”

Dr. Owen stopped accepting all insurance and now charges his 1,000 patients $38 a month.

“When I decided to abandon insurance, I didn’t want to lose my patient base and make it unaffordable,” he said. “I have everything from waitresses and shrimpers to international businessmen. It’s a concierge model, but it’s also the personal doctor model.”

Dr. Owen, who once had three nurses and 10 examining rooms, said it was now just him and a receptionist. He has become obsessed with keeping overhead low, but he said that, for the first time since the 1990s, his income was going up.

So perhaps Dr. Owen will be one of those doctors who buys a machine from Vinod Khosla or another investor. Or perhaps Obamacare or private insurance companies will quit paying for medical care from a human.

Where does that leave the medical schools in the United States, Belize, and elsewhere?

You will still take a cab to the doctor’s office. For a while.

In May of 2003, Edith was a 75 year old widow. Though she missed her husband terribly, she still maintained an active life. This was complicated by the fact that she never learned to drive, but what are friends – and cab companies – for?

Being somewhat set in her habits, she would always have her medical checkup on the first Tuesday in May. The routine never varied. An hour before her appointment, Edith would go to the living room, pick up the phone, and call the cab company. The cab driver would arrive half an hour later and take her to the doctor’s office. Edith would pay the cab driver with a credit card – she didn’t like using the cabs that required cash – and then go into the doctor’s office, see the receptionist, and wait. She’d then spend some time with a nurse, and toward the end of the appointment would spend some time with the doctor. Edith was amused by the fact that she was now older than her doctor.

Edith remained in remarkably good health, so she continued to visit the doctor every year. And even in 2013, when she was 85 years old, the routine never varied – or it didn’t vary much. She still scheduled her doctor’s appointments for the first Tuesday in May, and she still took a cab to the doctor’s office. She still went to the living room to call the cab – not because the phone was there, but because she always liked to make her calls from the living room. It was easier to make the call to the cab company, because she had the number pre-programmed into her Jitterbug phone. And her daughter had set things up so that she could pay the cab driver in advance, through her computer. Edith could have booked the cab through the computer also, but that just didn’t feel right. She did appreciate the safety of paying online, though. The cab driver took her to the doctor’s office, just as before, and she had to wait in the waiting room, just as before (well, maybe a little bit longer). These days she spent much more time with the nurses than she did with the doctor, but the doctor always made sure to spend a few minutes with Edith. The doctor actually liked to spend time with Edith; some of his patients would probably just as soon have the doctor email his findings to them, and skip that whole “discussion” bit.

Time continued, and while Edith slowed down a bit, she was still able to maintain her independence. So in May 2023, when Edith was 95 years old, she still scheduled her doctor appointment for the first Tuesday in May, and she still took a cab to the doctor’s office. The routine never varied – well, maybe a little bit. Edith had booked and paid for the cab a month before the appointment, using the online Gacepple Calendar service. (Gacepple, of course, was the company that resulted from the merger of Google, Facebook, and Apple – the important merger that saved the tech industry in the United States from extinction. But I digress.) An hour before the appointment, Gacepple Calendar reminded Edith of her appointment, and five minutes later the Toyota in the street let her know that it had arrived. No, not the driver – there was no driver – but the Toyota itself.

Edith was the expert on driverless cars. Outside of the techie circles, most individuals didn’t own driverless cars. But the cab companies that Edith used sure did. While some cabdrivers protested over their job losses, many of them got jobs with churches, nursing homes, and other groups that didn’t have the money – yet – to afford a driverless car. Edith was secretly pleased with the elimination of cab drivers – all of the cab drivers in the past had listened to that horrid country music, and Edith liked the freedom to choose her own music on the way to the doctor’s office. Edith, of course, usually listened to oldies music – early Katy Perry was her current favorite.

After the Toyota delivered Edith to the doctor’s office, she went to the front door, was identified by the multi-biometric reader, and walked in. She announced her presence in the waiting room. “We’re ready for you, Edith,” said the friendly voice. “Would you like someone to guide you through the examination?”

“Yes,” replied Edith. “I’m not that good with all of this electronic stuff. Yesterday I set my alarm for seven o’clock PM instead of seven o’clock AM! Not that I need an alarm to wake up.”

The friendly person opened the door for Edith and told her to go to Examination Room C.

“So do you still need people to perform some of the tests?” asked Edith as she sat in the comfortable chair.

“Actually,” replied the friendly voice, “none of the tests requires human intervention. In fact” – the voice paused for a bit – “we’re already done.”

“Wow, that was quick!” replied Edith. “And I didn’t even have to get poked or take any clothes off.”

“We try to make the experience as comfortable as possible for all of our patients,” said the friendly voice. “We know that medical appointments in the past used to be very uncomfortable for some people, but with today’s scanners and medical reading devices, we can complete the examination without laying a hand – or sensor – on you. We’ll mail the results to Edith Smith at Gacepple dot com. Did you have any questions?”

“Actually, I had two,” replied Edith. “First, will there ever be a time when me – or my children – won’t have to come down to the office for the examination?”

The friendly voice replied. “Actually, we offer this service right now, and some of our REALLY elderly patients prefer it, because it allows more constant monitoring of their medical condition. Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover the cost, but – just a moment – I’ll mail you the information on our home service.”

“Thank you,” said Edith. “And if you have a minute, I do have one more question for you.”

“I have the time,” replied the friendly voice.

“I have to admit that I was unnerved a couple of years ago when I came to the medical office and no one was here. I had been warned that this would happen, but was told that a person would guide me by voice to the office and conduct the exam. After a while, I’ve gotten used to the idea of talking to you, even though you’re not here.”

“Well, I’m glad you’ve gotten used to the procedure,” replied the friendly voice. “I hope you like me!”

“I do,” said Edith. “You’ve been very helpful. But I’ve always wondered exactly WHERE you were. If you were in Los Angeles, or in Mississippi, or perhaps in India or China, or perhaps even in one of the low-cost places such as Chad. If you don’t mind my asking, exactly where ARE you?”

“I don’t mind answering the question,” replied the friendly voice, “and I hope you don’t take my response the wrong way, but I’m not really a person as you understand the term. I’m actually an application within the software package that runs the medical center. But my programmers want me to tell you that they’re really happy to serve you, and that Stanford sucks.” The voice paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Edith. You have to forgive the programmers – they’re Berkeley grads.”

“Oh,” said Edith after a moment. “This is something new. I’m used to it in banking, but I didn’t realize that a computer program could run an entire medical center. Well…who picks up the trash?”

“That’s an extra question! Just kidding,” replied the friendly voice. “Much of the trash pickup is automated, but we do have a person to supervise the operation. Ron Hussein. You actually know him – he was your cab driver in 2018 when you came here.”

(DISCLOSURE: I am employed in the biometrics industry.)

For further information, see this discussion of Vinod Khosla’s views on the future of medicine, and this discussion of the future of driverless cars. And it shouldn’t surprise you to know that Tad Donaghe has commented on both of these stories.

The six million dollar doctor?

Years and years ago, there was a television show called “The Six Million Dollar Man.” The man in question had been surgically enhanced via something called “bionic” technology. In the television show, this bionic technology effectively gave the man superpowers. Eventually a second TV show was created, in which a woman (and a dog) were also given bionic parts.

On TV, the operations were performed by human doctors.

Fast forward to the next century, when Steven Hodson ran across a bizarre billboard. The picture shows a young woman, with bright eyes and an extra-large smile, along with the following quote:

Robotic hysterectomy was my answer.

To which Hodson wondered, what was the question?

After coming up with some possible questions (programming Roombas?), I delved a little deeper. The billboard came from St. Rita’s Medical Center in Lima, Ohio, and its website has an entire page on all of the robotic gynecology operations it performs. Here’s an example:

Treatment for endometriosis often requires removal of the entire uterus and ovaries as well as the removal of the abnormal tissue implants. Using the robotic surgical system, the surgeon is better able to remove the uterus and ovaries, is able to remove the abnormal tissue implants, and is able to do so through smaller incisions. This causes less blood loss, less pain and ultimately better outcomes. The end result is usually less time in the hospital, a more rapid recovery at home, and a faster return to normal activities.

Drs. Chung, Scherger, Niesen and Stallkamp are performing robot-assisted laparoscopic uterine surgery for endometriosis. They have many years of experience in minimally invasive surgery and, with the addition of the new robotic platform, are performing more complex surgeries.

Of course, these robots are still under the control of a doctor. But if we’re moving toward 3-D printing, how far are we from deploying medical robots to remote areas (Antarctica, perhaps?).

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