March 15, 2012
Oh, my favorite futurist has been at it again. This title is the key takeaway from Ray Kurzweil’s keynote address on Monday at the South By Southwest Interactive conference. In one of his pronouncements, Mr. Kurzweil claimed that not only will artificial intelligence (AI) evolve to the point that we can carry on human interactions with robots, but that we will easily accept AI as an equal and contemporary to our own consciousness.
“We are a human-machine civilization. Everybody has been enhanced with computer technology…they’re really part of who we are,” he said. “If we can convince people that computers have complexity of thought and nuance…we’ll come to accept them as human.” (For in-depth coverage of his keynote including video, see Inside the Kurzweil SXSW Keynote: On Infinite Mind Power, Robotic Overlords and Immortality).
Science fiction, you say? Not relevant to your strategic planning today? I say, think again. But don’t think robots or cyborgs – yet. The two big underlying assumptions of Mr. Kurzweil’s predictions are here with us today:
People have come to expect health care technologies that improve their life through human-machine interface.
Social acceptance of technologies in lieu of human interaction is already here.
With regard to the first, Mr. Kurzweil’s premise is that humans are slowly become in human-machine creations. Think contact lenses and artificial knees. Then think Dick Cheney and his heart pump – a machine sustaining his life – and the Cyberonics vagus nerve stimulation device for depression. Then, think implantable brain chips to cure Alzheimer’s and schizophrenia – and microchips in your medication. Examples of the types of old, new, and future technologies that every health and human service organization needs to consider in current planning.
With regard to the social acceptance of technologies in lieu of human services, I’m afraid that train has left the station. Think bank ATM machines and smartphones, and then, think e-health (see Telehealth Tipping Point all members). Finally, think RI-MAN robot (see Will A Robot Steal Your Job? all members).
We may not be talking robots quite yet. But if you’re not already thinking about how best to use technology to supplement and leverage your staff, you’re behind. And where opportunity exists, so goes venture capital investment – venture capital firms are now focused on investing in technologies that replace human health care workers using technology (see npr.org’s Forget The Robots: Venture Capitalists Change Their Health Care Investments). In this npr.org story, they reported:
The opportunities within complex health care ecosystems are in things as mundane as billing. […] Drop the manual coding and create “a software system that learns as it codes and keeps getting better and better. And all of a sudden you can say to the hospital, Look, we’ll charge you 50 or 70 percent of what you’re paying now. You guys save 30 percent….”
In Will Robots Steal Your Job?, writer Farjad Manjoo wrote last year, “As computers get better at processing and understanding language and at approximating human problem-solving skills, they’re putting a number of professions in peril. Those at risk include doctors, lawyers, pharmacists, scientists, and creative professionals—even writers like myself”? It looks like that premise is moving toward the tipping point.
Monica E. Oss
Chief Executive Officer, OPEN MINDS
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