Thoughtfood 12: Paging Dr.Robot!

Innovation can scare the wisest humans. Socrates of Ancient Greece who was a proponent of spoken words as education feared writing would foster forgetfulness in the learner’s mind. The valued Swiss scientist Conrad Guesser also warned of information overload after he compiled all printed books of the 16th century, almost two thousand years later. The same resistance met succeeding communication platforms like the radio, television, and the very device displaying these words today.

What do you know, Socrates?

What do you know, Socrates?


The pocket-sized computer you carry everywhere is the descendant of giant terminals like IBM’s Univac I, the 7.3 metric ton megalodon capable of executing 1,905 operations per second which accurately predicted the outcome of the 1952 American presidential election when Dwight Eisenhower ended a 20-year Democratic reign with a landslide victory.

The computer analyzed the mere five percent of the tallied votes available at to coin the winner, brining the machine’s unprecedented calculation capacity into the public eye. People feared a takeover by these “Giant Brains” seen as direct competition to punch-card technology and other human jobs, in utter shock, true to the Socratic sentiments of the past.

Technology shook the foundations of the world, once again.

Fast forward to the 21st century, a computer at the University of Adelaide in Australia can predict a patient’s lifespan with a 69% accuracy. IBM’s Watson diagnosed a rare Leukemia case by crunching data that would take a trained human two weeks to analyze within ten minutes, further North in Japan.

The Artificial Intelligence identified the best treatment through the tens of millions of cancer studies and mountains of data on the disease wired within its network. The doctors adjusted the therapy accordingly, and the sixty-year-old patient’s condition improved significantly.

Times change fast: Mobile technology evolves at an exponential rate. These robotic victories foreshadow an impending technological shift that will shatter the foundations of healthcare as we know them. Health professionals must prepare for an eventual replacement by Artificial Intelligence and adapt to the patient-centered medicine offered by mobile technology if they want to avoid the faith of scribes and factory artisans down the line.

Eric Topol provides valuable insight on the matter in “The Creative Destruction Of Medicine” and “The Patient Will See You Now.” The cardiologist-geneticist leads the discussion on what he refers to as the greatest revolution in communication since the invention of the printed press.

Alex Bernier