Can somebody page the Robot?

Computer engineers believe their robot assistants can be of service in an emergency room near you!  A few weeks ago, Vanderbilt University posted an article on their Facebook page about how their trauma unit might be ready to accept this new technology.  The new “TriageBot” was invented to provide a kind of relief for the often busy and chaotic atmosphere of the unit for both patients and employees.   Those who do not come through the doors of the emergency room with an immediate or life threatening condition can be serviced by this handy new robot, cutting down on time. The robot can check your blood pressure and pulse-making sure you are indeed alive at the time of entry.  It can ask questions about age and height, or any other protocol type information that needs to be gathered from an incoming patient.    TriageBot may also become mobile and be given the responsibility to check in on patients, checking for consciousness and asking patients to gauge pain levels.  The bot will be programmed to report potential problems to the emergency room staff. Of course, the machines will not be left on their own- they will have a human supervisor.  Still, will patients have the same sort of trust for these time-saving machines that they would for a human?

People often enter trauma units in a state of chaos.  An unforeseen event has taken away a person’s health, making them fragile and in need of a professional.  Whether someone has a baby that will not stop coughing, or has been mangled in a car accident, human attention is deserved.  How will the trauma unit make the decision of who is worthy of a human and who is not?  Kazuhiko Kawamura, a professor of engineering and computer science who was quoted in the article admits that the robot’s success will be determined by the patient’s reaction.  I wonder if he would be surprised to find that patients might not warm up to the idea of having a robot asking them questions about how they feel.

ROBOT: What is your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

PATIENT: I’ve hit my head.  I feel like I have a migraine and I don’t understand why I can’t see straight.  This is the worst head pain I’ve ever had.

ROBOT: What is your pain level on a scale of 1-10?

How is a robot to understand pain, tears, or urgency?  How are patients to understand and be comfortable with the care they are getting if they are speaking with a machine? A hospital employee might begin by asking a patient to explain their pain level using numbers, but then be able to better understand the situation based on how the patient responds- maybe even taking knowledge of how to help from a previous experience.

Kawamura also seems to be under the impression that the emergency room is the “perfect way to test” a new type of cognitive architecture within the machines- attempting to develop a working memory for better and faster robot decision-making.  Perhaps computer engineers should spend more time with the patients and employees to understand what sort of space these robots would be entering.  Maybe they would find that the emergency room is no place to be testing anything.  People are rushed through these doors in need of help, not a quick fix.   Will the robots offer a warm touch to the man with the confusing head wound?  Would it be able to understand a mother desperately trying to explain that something is wrong with her baby…something she might know instinctively? 

There is a lot of potential for computer technology in the world of medicine, but we need to express caution in how we use it.  A robot used to check a patient in might save on time, but also might disregard the very fragile state this person is experiencing.  Overall, the field of medicine needs to keep asking: What kind of healers are we becoming?


Hey Babe

I cannot be certain about whether my existence is artificial.   I am aware that for years my parents had sought help from various doctors while trying to conceive.  Either none of it worked and I am 100% all natural, or it just took a little time to kick in.  I like to consider myself a miracle baby.

Artificial Reproductive Technology (ART) has a booming market.  And why not?  Now that women are more “liberated” and out in the work field the possibility of having a child might not occur until late thirties, mid forties.   I feel like there should have been a memo explaining  that drying up would be the consequence of trying to keep up in a man’s world.   Science, in its typical god-like fashion, has a solution.  It can create babies.  Even though we always claim that one could never put a price on life, a pretty penny will be spent trying to bring a child into the world.  Approximately $60,000 will get one fertilized embryo placed in position for expected growth.   No guaranteed success, and the price goes up each time.  The next cocktail will put you back over $100,000.  Over the age of 40 there is only about a 9% chance that this procedure will work.  Geneticists also want in on the action.  Before an embryo is chosen for insertion geneticists are now able to tell you the sex and which one is the healthiest-even going as far as giving the parents the actual percentage of a possible disability (such as spina bifida).  Selection.  How would a couple interested in the procedure go about making such a choice?  And what gives them the right?

An interesting side story: I recently encountered ART serving as the actual branch between life and death when the parents of a brain-dead male patient wanted to extract sperm from their son so that they could impregnate his girlfriend.  The parents of this young man happened to be wealthy horse breeders from Kentucky.

Mind Control

What is being described as “Brain-Machine Technology” is a curious new area of study in neuroscience.  Some of the first generation “brain-machines” are being used to help symptoms related to  Parkinson’s disorder, restore use of paralyzed limbs, reduce seizures, help with post-stroke therapy, and even ease chronic depression. Neuroscientists believe they are taking the next big step in therapeutic  options for healing.  Electrodes connected to a pacemaker like device are inserted into the brain.  The patient, awake during the surgery, will respond to a number of commands all of which are specific to their own needs.  Their thoughts relay in real-time to the electrodes, where things like tremors, sad thoughts, or limb stimulation can then be adjusted.  The goal of the surgery is to decode and utilize information that is being received and manipulate the brain to respond differently- giving the patient relief, or assistance with their ailment. The surgery has been reported to be helpful, but it is not yet a cure.

Historically, psychosurgery in the 20th century does not leave a good reputation.  Suffering beyond anyone’s control? Nothing a good lobotomy couldn’t fix.  We have good reason to be wary of treatments that change the actual behavior of the patient.  Should science have the obligation or right to alter a personality and call it a cure?  This futuristic technology will soon become mainstream as improvements continue.  Ideally, deep brain stimulation (DBS) could be used to cure eating disorders, drug addictions, Alzheimer’s, or Tourette’s syndrome.  The device itself is being enhanced to have a longer battery life, be made of  a less corrosive metal, and of course, become smaller.  It might also be possible to have the “brain-machine” and its activity be monitored remotely… by the internet!  Perhaps soon we can plug ourselves in at night along with our other “smart” devices…or into the Matrix.

Diesease Profile: Hypertensive Vascular Disease

Hypertension is nothing else than elevated blood pressure, a common health problem that often remains asymptomatic until late in its course, when it demonstrates its devastating consequences. Coronary artery disease and cerebrovascular accidents, cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure, aortic dissection and even renal failure can be attributed to hypertension. So what causes hypertension, who carries it,and how does one prevent it?

Like everything else there are genetic and environmental factors that determine hypertension. According to Robbins and Cotran’s Pathologic Basis of Disease. 7th ed., “screening programs reveal that 25% of persons in the general population are hypertensive. So hypertension is like an insect that plants its eggs in the bud of a plant so that the offspring can eat its way out, eventually killing the flower. Maybe a stretch.

Are you concerned about hypertension? Visit your doctor. Are you uninsured? Give him your money. Don’t have any money? Eat a low sodium diet, and blame your parents for faulty genes. The upside of this disease is that it usually takes you when you are about ready to go anyway.

Save your Heart! Don’t eat salt!

False Appetizing

Alphaila recently performed a photographic experiment starring food you can buy at 4 in the morning. Fast, that is.

The results are disturbing. Dario D, the blogger/scientist behind the experiment, purchased items from McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, and Jack in the Box. He juxtaposed a stock image of the item with an image of his own, purchased item, taking care to recreate the lighting and setting of the original picture.

As you can see, at least one fast-food chain failed to recreate the splendor of their advertised gloss.

Dario D made explicit his intention to display the food in the most flattering way possible, though he admitted he did not buy multiples of the same item to garner the best possible rendition of the same product.

It is my contention that this false advertising should be illegal. For one, those Jack in the Box tacos on the left actually look healthy – fresh, full of vegetables, somehow able to stand upright on their narrow spines without toppling over. What you really get is a soggy cardboard nacho failure. Two, false advertising allows companies to up their fast-food prices (why are shitty Whoppers $4?) – if you’re gonna spend 8 bucks on a fast-food meal, well then Jesus, why didn’t you just  go someplace nicer.

I understand the convenience aspect of fast food and myself am partial to Taco Bell burritos in a time/energy crunch. However, food is more sacred than the atrocity pictured above, and we shouldn’t fuddle “convenience” and “quality” together in food advertising. The illusion will only serve to keep another generation poor, starving for health, and paradoxically, overfed.