The Newnan Times-Herald

Opinion

A Practical Proposal


  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Nov. 30, 2019 - 7:45 AM

A Practical Proposal

The Newnan Times-Herald

I just wrote my kids and told them all I wanted for Christmas is a lifetime supply of WD-40. I plan on taking a dose along to my future medical appointments.

Things are fine now, but according to something I just read, the health care “professional” diagnosing my ailments in the future may be a robot.

According to a recent news article, “Artificial intelligence is spreading into health care, often as software or a computer program capable of learning from large amounts of data and making predictions to guide care or help patients.”

Right now, all my docs and medical techs have a heartbeat and a pulse. I like my group a lot. Not long ago I spent some quality time surrounded by a huge machine that whirled and swirled around my body as it shot invisible rays into my innards to make sure they were all there.

They were. Yay, me. But the whole time I was surrounded by the robotic prober, real, live humans were right beside me to help out in case I came down with the hives or cold sweats.

I knew technology was already working behind the scenes processing test results and doing things like predicting your life expectancy based on your weekly consumption of M&Ms.

But that’s not what scares me. Some patients aren’t just having test results evaluated by technology. They are being diagnosed by droids. At some clinics, software powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI) has replaced humans.

During some appointments, patients sit at a screen or use their phones to tell robots about their symptoms. Robot A reports to Robot B who may then decide to clue in a real, live doctor.

Creepier things are coming. University of Southern California professor Albert Rizzo heads a team of researchers that are developing an actual artificial human who lives on a TV screen and sits in a chair and talks to patients.

The imaginary practitioner is named Ella. The article said, “Ella makes eye contact, nods and uses hand gestures like a human therapist. It even pauses if the person gives a short answer, to push them to say more.”

Does it work? In the scariest quote in the article, one of Ella’s patients said, “After the first or second question, you kind of forget that it’s a robot.”

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m not ready for a cartoon character saying “Hi, Alex. What concerns do you have?” I bet I’m not alone.

I wonder if we weren’t better off with some of the old-fashioned treatments our grandparents used. Every kid I ran with knew if you were playing and got scraped or cut, all you had to do was follow your grandma’s advice and “Rub some dirt on it.”

Worked every time. My boyhood hero was Roy Rogers. Roy never saw a robot doctor and he lived long enough to have his horse, Trigger, stuffed and mounted in the living room.

I’ve been thinking about seeing the new movie about TV star and all-around nice guy Mr. Rogers. The real Fred Rogers passed away years ago but if he were still alive I guarantee you’d never see him smiling at a diagnostic robot and saying, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”

Even if robots become the only choice, I’ll stay home and stay sick until I can visit one named Bubba.

And I’m taking a can of WD-40 with me. Just in case Doctor Roboto is rusty.

Alex McRae is the author of “There Ain’t No Gentle Cycle on the Washing Machine of Love.” He can be reached at alexmmcrae@gmail.com .