Do we need eight of these surgeons to operate on a single patient, or will one robot surgeon do the job? Is it possible that we may not require a surgeon in future? Should we consider replacing surgeons with robots?
These are some of the questions that are hovering in the medical industry as technology has evolved rapidly and has helped the medical industry to take on a plethora of existing challenges efficiently. Recently, a similar question was tweeted by Geoffrey Hinton, who is a pioneer in the world of artificial intelligence and is renowned for his works on neural networks.
The question led to a series of debates as several experts from the domain poured in their opinions on the subject, and many stood divided. One one hand Gary Marcus replied for the topic saying :
whereas President of AAAI, Subbarao Kambhampati wrote :
Moving aside from the debate that has created a stir amongst medical experts on Twitter, let’s have a look at how in recent past, robotics has made success story in regard to certain surgeries.
Successfully Treating Brain Aneurysm
On 24 Feb 2020, robots were used by doctors to treat a brain aneurysm in a 64-year-old female patient, which may improve the further use of robotics in the fields of cardiology and neurology. The female patient was brought in with an unruptured weakened area in the wall of the aneurysm. Doctors from the Toronto Western Hospital in Canada used a few software and hardware to use certain guidewires required to work on blood vessels in the brain. This treatment has resulted in a major advancement forward in neuro-endovascular intervention and the idea of performing remote neurovascular procedures.
Like every coin has two different sides, the use of a robotic surgeon has led to numerous positive results but also drew attention and received flaks from around the corner due to some severe malfunctions and failed cases.
Number of Failed Treatment Cases
In the quest to assist doctors in several medical cases, robotic surgery has caused more harm than good in recent years. As per a report by the BBC News, more than 144 deaths and close to 1000 injuries have taken place over the last 14 years, and these numbers are limited to the U.S. A total of 8,061 device malfunctions were reported as well. On several occasions, a number of technical difficulties and complications are witnessed, such as parts or broken pieces of instruments falling into a patient’s bodies to burning of tissues due to electrical sparks.
At present, a number of activities in hospitals are being managed by robotics. Surgical robots are not operating independently but are controlled by highly skilled doctors and are only designed to carry out specific tasks. Several instances have made it clear that computers are better at reading mammograms to examining retinal images. But these functions can be operated in a precise manner only when the programmer does a perfect job, which requires human expertise.
The most prominent robot assistance that has been on the medical scene is the da Vinci surgical system that has assisted doctors for the last 20 years. Watson, a robot in the U.S is used to produce management plans for oncology patients by collecting information from various kinds of reports. Another robot to look at is Woebot, which is known as the world’s first robotic therapist that has more than two million conversations a week.
The market for new technologies in the health industry is on the rise with players like Apple, Google and Dell trying to launch several automated products to assist doctors. The University of Adelaide recently announced that an AI system designed by them could detect a person’s lifespan, whereas Google’s deep-learning algorithm is capable of successfully detecting diabetic retinopathy.
It is a tricky question to answer when we ask if robots should replace a surgeon or not. When it comes to dealing with a human, there is an amount of trust shared between a surgeon and a patient- a bond and an understanding, which severely lacks in a robot. Trusting an automated machine, which can probably turn into ‘Skynet’ at any moment is a risk no one wants to take.
The AI systems are dependent on the data that one feeds them, which means that the data has to be recorded in an organised manner. Also, the systems are incapable of verifying the accuracy of data being fed and often assumes the data to be accurate. Thus, it is far away from thinking and taking the next step as a sentient. It is crucial to find the biases in datasets and fix them as soon as possible.
Last but not least, it is hard to assume whether a robot can morally distinguish between life and death. With the current advancement of technology in medical space, it is best to rely more on a human surgeon than a robotic one. Although it can be admitted that it is because of robotics, a number of treatment procedures have paced up and simplified.