Technology, Digital Health and the Frankenstein Syndrome
Does Moore’s Law apply to advances in the biological sciences? Will advances like artificial hips, cardiac pacemakers and spinal stimulators for pain be only the beginning of the realization of how humanity will be “re-engineered”” to take fuller and richer advantage of what science offers us?
Ray Kurzweil certainly thinks so. So does the venture capital industry and many other thinkers, companies, physicians and patients. Kurzweil’s technological singularity advances the idea that life is changing at a rate that will soon change the very notion of humanity. Technological singularity refers to the hypothetical future emergence of greater-than-human intelligence through technological means. Since the capabilities of such intelligence would be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the occurrence of a technological singularity is seen as an intellectual event horizon, beyond which events cannot be predicted or understood. Proponents of the singularity typically state that an intelligence explosion is a key factor of the Singularity where super-intelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds.
Very smart indeed, But for some, the future looks like this.
The prospect of super intelligence replacing aging knees, new electronic retinas and the electronic control of disease is the true promise of technology and many embrace this innovation with open arms. For others, prospect of “implantable technologies” conger an image that might be more familiar, but more frightening.
Simply stated, will the capacity of medical technology surpass the intellectual capacity of caregivers and patients to make the emotional leap embrace this change? What emerges is The Frankenstein Syndrome. A syndrome where technology does something unexpected–it frightens us. And while the bulk of today’s digital health revolution does more to engage and seduce us, other technologies such as deep brain stimulation and bionic eyes can provide more than efficacy. It can provide an element of fear.
Perhaps the reality is that we two curves to consider. The first is the rapid–almost exponential–growth in technology and solutions to health. The “Fantastic Journey” that many watched as a science fiction movie, establishes a real blueprint for today’s practice of medicine. The use, implantation, injection and ingestion of technology makes us well…and makes us…bionic, to use another word that is a throwback to a TV show’s of yesterday. The second curve might even be more complicated than the technology itself–the human mind. The capacity for our emotional thinking to change and adoption is real, but often slow. Issues such as fear, ignorance, superstition and cultural biases drive action in ways that defy logic. And add health and illness to this issue and emotion often leads the way. The sick, those in pain, those who care for loved ones who are ill are all subject to emotional drivers that complicate the decision process. What’s left is the profound element of the self. The me. The humanity that, after all, defines us. And if you really want to get freaky, consider that the brain, or part of it (and perhaps your mind) is on the list of body parts that can be replaced!
But technology isn’t the monster
The reality is that Frankenstein is a myth. But some medical technology still exist in this context. And in the final analysis, the monster is the myth itself. Innovation is path forward. However, that path may be obstructed by our fears and ignorance. It’s time that the technology we embrace and hold in our hands, implant in your body and scan us at a distance become the mainstream reality of clinical care. Yet the paths of innovation and emotional adoption, particular for implanted devices that treat disease, may keep these two apart. Only time will tell…