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Techno sapiens and the future of healthcare

Geschreven door Ben van Lier - 01 oktober 2013

Ben van Lier
The world is on the verge of a technological revolution. A revolution based on ‘convergence’. According to Rocco [1] (2011), convergence is a process in which various technological developments come together and where this convergence creates new possibilities for use in different sectors of society.

The technological developments that meet are mainly in the field of nano, bio- and cognitive technology, combined with ICT. One of the areas where this convergence is steadily becoming visible is healthcare. Surgical robots are perhaps one of the most eye-catching examples. In the field of medicine we also see applications based on nano- or biotechnology which can detect and control certain effects of diseases in the human body. Finally, more and more applications are developed for use on (prosthesis) or in (implants) the body.

Biology = technology

All these new features are part of a new mega trend that is characterized as: ‘biology is becoming technology’[2]. It is a perspective that is based on the fact that every living thing can be viewed from a mechanical and manufacturable perspective. This mega trend includes the concept ‘medical Cyber Physical Systems’, medical applications that could mean a considerable change for our healthcare in general and homecare in particular. Cyber Physical Systems are combinations of ICT applications that are integrated into physical objects and procedures. This combination makes it possible to exchange information from the object with regard to its location, status and context and to share it with other people and machines. Such new combinations make it possible to monitor the relevant objects regardless of their location and time, and to monitor and control their current status.

The medical Cyber Physical Systems developed specifically for healthcare, are ‘safety-critical, interconnected intelligent systems

of medical devices’, as stated by Lee & Sokolsky [3] (2012). According to Lee & Sokolsky [4] (2010), these mCPS have in common that they are based on the possibilities that software offers and can be connected in networks. Therefore, they provide a place and time independent, autonomous control: “to provide continuous monitoring of the patient state and handling of routine situations” (2010).

Blood laboratory of 14 millimetres

According to Lee & Sokolsky, such a ‘closed loop’ monitoring of the current situation of patients may help to reduce the workload of healthcare providers, because they only need to respond to exceptions of a previously established pattern. The use of such possibilities for place and time independent monitoring and control of patients not only increases the safety of the patients, but can also ensure that their treatment is performed more efficiently and effectively. Examples of such applications can be found in new glucose meters, insulin pumps, heart monitors or a blood laboratory of only 14 millimetres long, for instance, that is inserted under the skin and provides doctors with live data through a mobile telephone [5], as Prigg (2013) describes.

Techno Sapiens

The convergence of technologies into medical Cyber Physical Systems also raises new issues, especially if they are integrated into the human body, in particular the human brain. Wallach [6] (2013) states that the convergence of robotics and neuroscience, for instance, opens the possibility to develop advanced brain implants that can improve or supplement certain brain activity. But even robots with a high level of cognitive ability or a form of general artificial intelligence. Such changes in the human brain or extensive cognitive capabilities of machines such as robots could create a culture that Wallach refers to with the term Techno Sapiens. According to Wallach, the culture of Techno Sapiens can be described as “individuals who utilize information technology and neurotechnologies to enhance their capabilities”. (2013:261).

Information exchange between man and machine

Although many people consider the above to be a form of science-fiction, it is a development that can no longer be denied and which will fundamentally change our thoughts about health and healthcare. These developments cast their shadows far ahead for the individual, the healthcare provider and the current healthcare system. However, central to this development are the (im)possibilities for exchanging and sharing information between man and machine, connected in networks. Exchanging and sharing information in healthcare between people, machines and people and machinery mutually makes it possible to use available information, which helps to independently determine new actions by man or machine.

Consequences for healthcare

Really interesting questions arise when the development of medical Cyber Physical Systems and a culture of Techno Sapiens is combined with, for example, the developments of mobile healthcare and the Quantified self [7]. From the perspective of the Quantified self, the individual collects information about himself, anytime and anywhere, (such as heart rate, temperature, blood pressure) in order to improve their individual performance and condition. The information collected may eventually be useful in determining more specific and individual treatments and care procedures during a period of illness or rehabilitation. Thinking through the possibilities of medical Cyber Physical Systems for healthcare requires a concerted effort from all those involved. The results of this thinking process can perhaps help us in confronting what is possibly one of the greatest social challenges for the coming years: the ageing population.

  • [1] Rocco M. (2011) Opportunities for global governance of emerging and converging technologies converging technologies meeting, Sao Paulo, November 24, 2011
  • [2] European Parliament. Making perfect life. European
  • governance challenges in 21st Century Bio-engineering. Study. Science and Technology Options Assessment
  • [3] Lee I. & Sokolski O. (2012) Challenges and Research directions in medical Cyber-Physical Systems, Proceedings of the IEEE, vol. 100 pp. 75-90, Jan. 2012.
  • [4] Lee I. & Sokolski O. (2010) Medical Cyber Physical Systems. DAC’10june 13-1, 2010. Anaheim. California, USA.
  • [5] Prigg M. (2013) The medical lab implanted under the skin that can automatically phone a doctor BEFORE you fall ill. http://dailym.ai/15XRlCr
  • [6] Wallach W. (2013) From robots to techno sapiens: Ethics, law, and public policy in the development of robotics and neurotechnologies. Technologies on the stand: Legal and ethical questions in neuroscience and robotics. pp. 261- 283
  • [7] Ben van Lier (2013) Smart Shoes and Mobile Healthcare http://bit.ly/185e6Vf

Ben van Lier works at Centric as an account director and, in that function, is involved in research and analysis of developments in the areas of overlap between organisation and technology within the various market segments.

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