Tech Futures Exclusive

Future Care Capital is delighted to launch the first of a series of blog posts from across the health and care sectors with an exclusive from James Gardner, Senior Vice President of Ignite Technologies, based in the United States.

James Gardner was the former Chief Technology Officer at the Department for Work and Pensions before moving to the United States to join Spigit, which was acquired by Mindjet in September 2013. In 2016, James was appointed the Senior Vice President of Ignite Technologies, a leading enterprise software firm based in Austin. He is internationally recognised as a leading innovator in his field and we are delighted that he could share his thoughts on the advances in robot technology across health and care.

James Gardner, Senior Vice President, Ignite Technologies

The other day, I was engaged in a planning exercise about attitudes to transportation after driverless cars are available and well adopted.

The work was interesting because it led to the realization that robot cars will also change the way people think about machines.

For the first time for most people, they will be trusting their lives to a machine that has little, or no, human supervision.

Having once trusted such a machine with one’s life the question which follows is, what else will we trust unsupervised machines to do?

Might, in fact, the experience of successfully using a robot car change attitudes to such a degree we might let machines take care of us, even fix us too?

Already big data and deep learning are making machines rather more than databases of medical knowledge. IBM’s Watson, for example, now has the capability to read and understand medical journals and can use them to diagnose as well as – and in many cases better than – a human doctor.

In one case, Watson was able to diagnose a rare form of leukemia in 10 minutes that had stumped professorial rank doctors for months at the University of Tokyo [1].

And robotic surgeries are already with us, albeit, with human surgeons participating and supervising every step of the procedure, even if they are geographically distant from the actual operating room.

The DaVinci surgical robot, for example, has been the subject of 10,000 peer reviewed studies, which variously reported advantages over human surgeries such as less blood loss, fewer complications, shorter times in hospital, and better scar results. The only downside, it seems, was the huge cost of the robot.

Kaspar is one example of a British made robot developed by the University of Hertfordshire to act as a social companion and improve the lives of children with autism. This is the future of social care.

There are two examples in a sea of innovation that’s occurring in healthcare. But I refer them as examples because the challenge of these kinds of technologies is not whether we can make them work- since the evidence is pretty overwhelming that they do –  but whether they will be accepted by patients and healthcare professionals in the first place.

In one survey of 543 college students [2], it was found that patients trusted the doctor significantly less if the doctor used a computer in a diagnosic context. As a control, the same study tested whether the doctor lost patient’s trust if they consulted a more senior colleague, and discovered it was only the computer that was an issue.

This is the real challenge facing large scale automation of care. How do you get people, facing life or death decisions, to trust a machine to take over?

That’s why consumer attitudes to self driving cars are so interesting. Here too, life and death decisions happen on a constant basis. But they happen in a much more familiar, day to day setting than a doctor’s office or hospital.

I suspect – intuitively as there aren’t any studies yet with data – that many people will conclude that if their robot cars are good enough to use every day without fear, their robot doctors and carers are not only not to be feared, but actually preferred.

Especially if these robot carers will deliver materially better clinical outcomes for patients, just as robot cars are expected to deliver orders of magnitude safer roads.