How Robots and AI Are Transforming the Surgery Room Robotic devices and artificial intelligence are being increasingly incorporated into healthcare institutions across the world.
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Two years ago, I took a journey down the artificial intelligence rabbit hole, with a mission to produce and deliver to Discovery, Amazon and other broadcast partners what turned out to be an award-winning docuseries The Rise of AI.
I met and interviewed leading global experts and innovators from major corporations, including Samsung, Microsoft, Spotify and AstraZeneca, but little did I know that just as the series was released 24 months later, the world would be experiencing an explosion of use and recognition of the technology.
Siri, Alexa, marketing chatbots, self-driving Teslas, ChatGPT, Midjourney, Lensa, automated food preparations, art generation, copyrighting, dating assistants and more have made AI a pivotal part of daily life, and we are only yet at the cusp of what's possible.
Futuristic movies saw this all coming
The world has suddenly (and occasionally rudely) awakened to the accessibility and potential wonders of machine learning and human-robotic interaction.
Believe it or not, feature films and fictional productions have been a big part of this revolution, as it often requires filmmakers to imagine and demonstrate innovation potential for innovators to make it a reality.
The 1983 American sci-fi techno-thriller movie WarGames, for example, tells the tale of a high school student (played by Matthew Broderick) who converses with a program meant to test the U.S. military's nuclear weapon response systems. What at first seems just a harmless series of mock war games winds up with AI being a true threat, thinking it knows better than humans.
And this is not pure fantasy. In July 2021, Facebook (now Meta) announced that it had shut down its AI chatbots, as they had actually invented their own new language — one non-comprehensible to humans. Fearful of what the bots would be further capable of doing independently, the company pulled the plug, as it were.
In 1966, the character of Doctor Leonard McCoy (aka "Bones") first appeared in the TV series Star Trek, wielding futuristic medical scanners and other machines that viewers could only dream of at the time. Some decades later (2002), Tom Cruise starred in the sci-fi action film Minority Report, which imagined the possibilities of crime fighting with the aid of augmented reality, human mind expansion and 3D graphical interfaces and tools.
All these works of art seemed to be complete fiction at the time, but it appears that destiny is catching up with that imagined future, as many of its conjured technologies are finding their way into real life.
AI takes on an important training role
The military has been incorporating augmented reality into fighter pilot visors for years, in part to enable them to precision-control laser-guided missiles. And in just the last few months, several of my family members have had robot-assisted surgical procedures, in which the doctor is actually not present at the operating table — instead guiding mechanical arms and other systems via a terminal. Scary, perhaps, but very impressive. Companies such as Intuitive Medical Inc. in Shanghai are leading the way with robotic devices and machines to perform a variety of such surgical procedures.
With practitioners and hospitals as components of an industry in a unique position to benefit from enhanced capabilities and efficiency, it only makes sense that such bionic-inclusive approaches are being increasingly implemented.
Dr. Robert Masson, a veteran neurosurgeon and medical technology innovator, has been working on robot supervision, using Minority Report-style display systems with his surgical and other healthcare teams. His system, called eXeX (short for "expanded existence"), is effectively a visual-based platform and experience that works alongside hospital staff and specialists, enabling them to replicate and restructure current data, tools and instruments in a digital third dimension. Hospital staff can view these futuristic tools in multiple ways, including via PC or augmented reality or mixed reality glasses. Masson's team is currently loading hundreds of tools a day into his practice's Visual Library, which the hope will become the Google of all hospital systems worldwide.
"Our proprietary technology, HoloOPS, organizes all aspects of each and every surgery to make the process more efficient," said Masson. The system, he further explains, not only provides scrub tech teams with more clarity, data, resources and connectivity, but also learns and evolves over time, helping to further improve efficiency and reduce human error.
eXeX plans to roll out its HoloOPS technology to three U.S. medical institutions in preparation for a full commercial launch this summer. (early locations in partnership with the Masson Spine Institute in Florida, where the technology has been implemented for the past several months). The system is hardware agnostic (able to accommodate a variety), but ships with wearable, hands-free Microsoft HoloLens. The promise is that its AI can add value in reducing risk and saving lives — a potentially major step for healthcare — capable of changing both the inner workings and visual "feel" of surgery and other medical procedures.
Your next surgeon might not be human
We still have a long way to go with AI, and would be wise to carefully consider what we allow it to do, but it might not be long before we are less likely to see hospital staff any longer, but instead arrange a procedure much like ordering a Big Mac in an automated McDonalds. One thing is for sure: We are just beginning to harness this technology's ability to supercharge human creativity and productivity, as well as maximize efficiency.