Thursday, April 18, 2013

I Want My Tricorder

So this post is going to be more about artificial intelligence than it is about robotics. Maybe a tiny bit about robotics. And healthcare. If it can even be called that.

I have a bone to pick with healthcare. Hospitals, doctors, pharmaceutical companies -- that entire sprawling behemoth that exists to get us born, keep us alive, and (with any luck, although usually not) ease us towards the end. Ridiculous. The entire thing. From beginning to end the widely accepted institution that is referred to as 'healthcare' is utterly ridiculous.

Here's why: it is, for the most part, stagnant. I mean, let's forget for a moment that physicians, in their inception in the Europe of long ago and far away were thought of as little better than servants. These creatures whose function was to attend to the bodies of others so that others were free to do more important work with hands and minds.

Somewhere along the line it was got flipped upside down. Instead of living in poverty the physician, armed with decision trees and reams and reams of memorization, was thrust into upper-middle-class living. All of a sudden a physician went from making spouses depressed by circumstance a la Madam Bovary to 'dropping the MD bomb' as one of my friends once called it: i.e. single fellow in the company of straight ladies will withhold announcing his profession until he wants some action.

If science is a faith than doctors are the priests, the deacons, the ministers, the pastors, the missionaries. Making sure that we all adhere to the one true god of memorized facts and that we perform our religious duties each arbitrary recurring period. And many of us happily go to without question.

Well I question, sir. I question.

Here is the essence of my question. We have cell phones, inspired by their creator by Star Trek communicators. Why don't we have tricorders yet?

What is it about the field of medicine that creates such mediocrity? Is it because of the endless line up of patients? Is it because (in my country) the healthcare system is snagged at every turn by red tape? For god sake's -- when we bust we're still mended by needle and thread. How long have we been using that old thing?

At least there is a little hope. At least at the fringes of our science there are some people who refuse to believe that progress in medical research is not impossible. To wit:
  1. Today the National Post came out with a piece about robots performing surgery on throat cancer. Hand tremors begone!
  2. Apparently some folks have developed some that functions sort of, kind of like a tricoder.
  3. Medical Knowledge and Artifical Intelligence. Physician, free thyself to go work on developing a tricoder.
It's a good start, but it only approaches the sort of thing I dream about. And what do I dream? Non-invasive healthcare. Preventative, profoundly non-invasive. As in: no more need to poke and prod and cut off bits of you to figure out what you have. No reason to turn your body inside out to get rid of it. Why? Because I can just, even as a layperson, take this little device and detect pre-cancerous cells within any part of my body and then take action to avoid cancer (or whatever else disease you'd like to avoid) before it even happens. Ta da!

That's the dream. Seriously, body sciences. For the greater good: think of how many more people you could save with proactive, rather than a reactive, model. Don't tell me it's impossible. Do it. Now.