Can Our Art and Science Keep Pace with Technological Evolution?

It should. As we all know, technological advancement is currently evolving faster than one can wholly observe. Even in blogs and table-talks, we rejoice over these advancements. I do. Truly, it is a gift of our time.

But just for a second, let us step back and check on the point of why we are in these endeavors. Why do we keep abreast of technological primes? Why do we check out these tools and get excited when it adds to our medical gadgetry?

Because we must all know the bottom line—that it could potentially complement our beloved art and science, the practice of medicine. That in its ideal form, we are able to reach newer heights, we are able to accomplish beyond a dream—better quality of life, better approach to problems of chronic diseases and achieving better outcomes, better management protocols towards these diseases that too often take over lives, better understanding and interpretation of research results, better ethics and compassion towards another life. And what of this science? What of this art? The human factor, the providers skillfully delivering care to patients and the patients themselves, are the life blood of all these work. Arguably, no technology can suffice for the lack of humanity in all of these. In the practice of medicine, in the aim to heal, success lies in how we effectively transmit our best knowledge with the use of the best tools available and with the most underrated factor of all, our selves—our evolved selves.

Here are two examples of those humans today, If I may. Dean Kamen and Ray Kurzweil.

Here is Dean Kamen and his solutions at DEKA Research.

Dean Kamen is an inventor, an entrepreneur and a tireless advocate for science and technology. His roles as inventor and advocate are intertwined — his own passion for technology and its practical uses has driven his personal determination to spread the word about technology’s virtues and by so doing to change the culture of the United States. His vast knowledge of the physical sciences, combined with his ability to integrate the fundamental laws of physics with the most modern technologies, has led to the development of breakthrough processes and products.

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At DEKA, we focus on technologies that enhance quality of life. In many cases that means developing medical devices and products that aid the people who need it most. Some of these allow healthcare professionals to deliver better care, while some enable people to live better lives, with more mobility, more freedom, and less discomfort. Some of these products are used for surgical procedures and the administration of medicines, while some are designed for people to use themselves, freeing them from the constraints of hospitals. All have one thing in common–making life better.

Watch Dean Kamen on TED—Technology, Entertainment, Design by clicking on the screen shot below.

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However, I could not go on after sharing about Mr. Kamen here without a bit of a personal anecdote. When my husband and I first carried a conversation over the phone, he babbled about him for an hour and a half. We were just getting to know each other then. Perhaps half floating in the air myself at that moment while listening and dancing along to this particular courtship song, I could remember nothing much from that conversation but the Segway man whom he photographed while being interviewed by his friend for the magazine, Make. After that conversation, I affirmed myself once more as a geek having been immensely attracted to the person who burnt my ears with his bit of adventure to Segway-land—Manchester, New Hampshire. Apparently, it worked as I am now married to this good man. ;-)

Back to business and on to Ray Kurzweil, another great inventor and futurist who is best known for his theories and writings on Singularity.

At the onset of the twenty-first century, humanity stands on the verge of the most transforming and the most thrilling period in its history. It will be an era in which the very nature of what it means to be human will be both enriched and challenged, as our species breaks the shackles of its genetic legacy and achieves inconceivable heights of intelligence, material progress, and longevity.

For over three decades, the great inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil has been one of the most respected and provocative advocates of the role of technology in our future. In his classic The Age of Spiritual Machines, he presented the daring argument that with the ever-accelerating rate of technological change, computers would rival the full range of human intelligence at its best. Now, in The Singularity Is Near, he examines the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our own creations.

Watch Ray Kurzweil on TED by clicking on the screen shot below.

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There is a lot going on in his equally busy web site, though truly a fun and a leaping-ly educational way to spend some of your time in.

Then of course comes the iPhone‘s firmware Version 2.0, superbly titled in Wired as The Tech Rx for Doctors: The iPhone. This article explores further its possible medical use.

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The arrival this June of an enterprise-friendly iPhone is exciting to more than just business users. Doctors, too, are eyeing Apple’s handheld and wondering if it could kill off the old-fashioned clipboard and X-ray light box once and for all.

“If you could use the gesture-based way of manipulating images on the iPhone and actually manipulate a stack of X-rays or CT scans, that would be a huge selling point,” says Adam Flanders, director of informatics at Thomas Jefferson University and an expert in medical imaging.

To date, such a feature has remained a pipe dream due to most smartphones’ inability to handle the sophisticated compression techniques used on large medical images. Also, most phones lack the requisite memory and image-processing capabilities.

And, adding to this remarkable reality, of course, is the health care picture—the whole picture. The following article tells us that there is a need to keep pace. Jim Yong Kim, former director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS program, was noted by Wired as the Doctor (who) Urges Creation of “Science of Healthcare Delivery.”

While treatments have multiplied, the operations and processes for delivering those medicines haven’t kept pace, slowing health improvement in developing and developed countries.

“There is an implementation bottleneck,” said Jim Yong Kim, a Harvard Medical School professor and former director of the World Health Organization’s HIV/AIDS program said. “We know how to do so many things already, but we’re not delivering them.”

Kim urged the creation of a new science of healthcare delivery that would systematically evaluate which techniques worked and which didn’t.

There is more to this interesting discussion accounted by Wired. You may read the rest of the article here.

Unlike biological evolution, there is perhaps no misunderstanding over a missing link here. At present, we are more aware of our potential than previous generations, especially our creative potential as human beings willing to learn more and live more. However, a very tricky resource allocation issue and a multitude of complex factors (realities of the great digital divide for one) lie before humanity in this particular challenge to use the best of (medical) technology as effective tools. Addressing the great need in developing nations (as well as in the developed nations) is another addition to this challenge. Humans need to evolve as well in bettering themselves individually and collectively as vessels for these efforts in technology to be worth the while. We, as humans, as physicians and health care professionals, need to not only hold these gadgets in our hands, we must understand their greatest value is in the uplift of human life. The examples above help me believe we are definitely getting there.

If only we can develop our selves as fast as we can create our technology.

Happy Easter!

~ by Karina Descartin on 23 March 2008.

3 Responses to “Can Our Art and Science Keep Pace with Technological Evolution?”

  1. I read Fantastic Voyage, The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, and they changed my life. I even found some of his lectures on Itunes and I find myself impatiently awaiting his next book.

    Recently read another incredible book that I can’t recommend highly enough, especially to all of you who also love Ray Kurzweil’s work. The book is “”My Stroke of Insight”” by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor. I had heard Dr Taylor’s talk on the TED dot com site and I have to say, it changed my world. It’s spreading virally all over the internet and the book is now a NYTimes Bestseller, so I’m not the only one, but it is the most amazing talk, and the most impactful book I’ve read in years. (Dr T also was named to Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and Oprah had her on her Soul Series last month and I hear they’re making a movie about her story so you may already have heard of her)
    If you haven’t heard Dr Taylor’s TEDTalk, that’s an absolute must. The book is more and deeper and better, but start with the video (it’s 18 minutes). Basically, her story is that she was a 37 yr old Harvard brain scientist who had a massive stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain. Because of her knowledge of how the brain works, and thanks to her amazingly loving and kind mother, she eventually fully recovered (and that part of the book detailing how she did it is inspirational).

    There’s a lot of learning and magic in the book, but the reason I so highly recommend My Stroke of Insight to this discussion, is because we have powerfully intelligent left brains that are rational, logical, sequential and grounded in detail and time, and then we have our kinesthetic right brains, where we experience intuition and peace and euphoria. Now that Kurzweil has got us taking all those vitamins and living our best “”Fantastic Voyage”” , the absolute necessity is that we read My Stroke of Insight and learn from Dr Taylor how to achieve balance between our right and left brains. Enjoy!

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  3. [...] This was taken in one of our stops for that day, Kansas Zoo, on a Segway. [...]

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