I think the biggest changes will come from technology that is not specifically designed for health care – Interview with Health Tech Event speaker Ellen Willemse

I think the biggest changes will come from technology that is not specifically designed for health care – Interview with Health Tech Event speaker Ellen Willemse.

Ellen Willemse is project manager at The Netherlands Study Centre for Technology Trends (STT). She has recently written a book (in Dutch) about ways in which technology may impact our world in 2050.
During the Health Tech Event at High Tech Campus Eindhoven on December 8th, Ellen Willemse will give a talk about future scenario’s of health related technology.

Which health related technology do you find most promising?
“I think the biggest changes will come from technology that is not specifically designed for health care, but turns out to have great applications in the health sector. Take Virtual Reality (VR). VR was designed for the entertainment industry, but hospitals are using it to treat phobia’s like fear of heights. I gave a lecture recently at the UMC [Utrecht Medical Centre] where I asked the medical professionals if they thought their hospital would have a special VR division in the near future. They all said yes.

Anything else?
“Self-learning systems, such as robots, are showing great promise. Now robots are used to help doctors diagnose disease and to act as social companions in nursing homes so people feel less lonely. In Japan a robot called Pepper, which is basically an i-pad on wheels with a few sensors added to it, is used to welcome guests in hotel lobbies. Pepper could also be used in a hospital or care centre to answer simple questions that the main nurse is too busy to answer. So the nurse can do his or her job more effectively.”

Robots in health care are also viewed with suspicion. Is there a risk that robots will erode human aspects of care and attention?
“That is an important question. We have to think deeply about which way we want the technology to develop instead of just focusing on what is technically feasible. It is the main message of my latest book ‘Wie Wij Worden’ (‘Who We Will Become’). In my lectures I often see that people are very divided about technological developments like social robots. There isn’t going to be one solution that will work for everybody. My hope is that we will develop lots of smart solutions, while at the same time providing space for people to opt out. In many sectors of society, like banking or the public transport chipcard, an opt-out no longer exists. But if people for whatever reason have an issue with social robots, they should be given the chance to refuse and get human care instead. If you detest the notion of a social robot, you’ll just feel miserable if it is forced upon you. That probably isn’t going to help you get better faster.”

What is the biggest challenge of implementing robotics in health care?
“The fact that we expect and demand these systems to be 100% perfect, which they aren’t and probably will not be any time soon. Doctors make mistakes all the time and we accept that because of the complexity of their work. Yet from machines we demand maximum assurance that they will never make a mistake. I’m afraid this attitude will make us have to wait much longer for the implementation of technology that can already deliver major improvements, but perhaps isn’t 100% foolproof. And if we do choose to implement these systems, how do we deal with their mistakes? Do we become angry with the programmer, even though that person had no bad intent at all? I would hate to see programmers lynched for having overseen a software glitch. We really have to think about how we’re going to deal with these issues.”

Do you believe in the ‘singularity’, the moment that machines will outsmart humans in every respect?
“I do think that moment will come, although I have no idea when. One thing I learned from the past is that technological developments often take much longer than expected.”

The interview was originally published on blog.hightechcampus.com. The Health Tech Event is organised by Jakajima, in partnership with High Tech Campus Eindhoven.

Go to High Tech Campus website to read the interview