Blog: The Paradox of Empathetic Transference in Medicine: Empathic Technology vs. Algorithmic Sympathy
Historically, the Human being has had an overzealous fascination with technology. Throughout generations, he has even labeled the eras by its corresponding technological achievements, Such as Renaissance technological insurgency from 1340 to 1470 AD to mechanization in the late 1800s to the linking of commercial networks and enterprises by the 1990s. Latter marked the beginning of the passage to the modern Internet, the kind of excellence in the achievements that have set the highest bars for the past centuries and decades to come.
Humankind has tried to integrate technology into his curriculum. Over time his enthrallment with mechanical, digital and mathematics was shaped and hybridized into activities through the incorporation of robotics, machine learning or artificial intelligence.
For centuries, Human being has perpetually struggled with separating dreams from reality as he oftentimes has clattered between humanizing the fake and demoralizing the technology through the projection of his vision on cinematic art characterized as the perfect humane partner or an ultimate killing machine. Regrettably, parallel to the technological evolution, as he became well grown into technological dependency, he as well, departed asunder from moral values that often overhauled defined human values for the past centuries.
Surely, we appear to have been relentlessly distracted by the fruit of our own tree; one of such distraction to point to is “the empathy”. Not long ago, I came across this interesting piece titled: “Empathetic technology’: Can devices know what you’re feeling?” (Published in medical news today)
The narration was about bringing the unrealistic to existence by enabling the robot to sense humankind’s emotional state utilizing machine learning, sensors and algorithms and retort by mean appropriate empathy. In other words, to humanize the sequel of the human to recognize what we are feeling. But, why is it indeed crucial to manifest to the world that automation can execute everything that a human being can and yet better? Especially, when it comes to something as delicate as empathy?
I can elaborate on this, but before let’s dig a bit deeper.
Let’s start out with the history of robots
According to current major dictionaries, a robot is nothing but a programmed, multi-functional operator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through programmed motions for the execution of tasks. Over time, these definitions have been the theme of disputation and or modification through the individual perceptual experience of scientific discipline and applied science as what includes a robotic action.
The word “robotics” was coined by a Russian-born American science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov whom foremost called it “Runabout in 1942 in his short story.
Indeed, the design of the most basic robots dates back to the 1950s by George C. Devol, an artificer from Louisville, Kentucky. For the first time in history, he was able to build a reprogrammed schemer called “Unimate,” sponsored by “Universal Automation”. This opened the course for the creation of more sophisticated robots which are being used in various industries today. He characterized the robots in his short stories as “helpful servants of man” and viewed robots as “a better, cleaner race.” Asimov proposed three “Laws of Robotics” that his robotic predecessors, as well as science fiction (sci-fi) robotic characters of other stories, followed. First, he stipulated that a robot may not harm a human being by its direct action or, through failure to act. Then he insisted on robot must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would cause harm to mankind. Last but not least, a robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first two Laws.
Human life, robotics, and the ultimate frontier
Mankind, although capable, yet perpetually stride to ad-lib and excel. When unable he is inclined to seek the ultimate superpower and by taking it one step farther, he even finds ways to preserve his competitive edge to be able to dominate the mission he has started from birth.
Throughout history, some have incorporated faith and religion into their rituals; few take consolidated overture for an ideology they entrust where others invest their faith in technology. Even so, all share two common denominators, thus called the constant search for “perfection” and “convenience”.
Robotics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence appear to fulfill human desire for reaching the peak in spite of his cognizance of how the product of his vision and creativity can be just as malicious as beneficial. So, he has tried to set rules of ethics to prevent the deleterious side effects of his innovation. Logically The precision, Efficiency, The power, Endurance has invariably been the true driving factors behind advancing machine learning invention frontline yet conflicting what meant to serve or interfere with.
How about Medical Science and Healthcare?
We have witnessed major developments across all industries as well as impressive advances in medical science equivocal to their fair share of parallel participation in the evolution such as robotic surgery. In recent decade’s robotics have been well introduced into people’s day to day lives as smart speaker technology made by Google & Alexa of Amazon, to scooters on the streets to walking talking robots that are to shadow a person around hence learn his routine and habits.
And forthwith the empathy! — A long time accepted phenomenon that irrespective of how best applied scientific discipline can coiffure human role, it will never equate to human existence. This has turned into contention that has led to defy the original notion of emotionless technology. Over and done for the first time, we are facing the birth of a new controversy clattering popular among the millennial. This has created an overwhelming problem, particularly from the technocrats of the 21st century. To genuinely infer this topic we need to define what empathy, sensitivity and existent behavior are. The power to realize and share the feelings of another and the quality or condition of being sensitive is fundamental to the acknowledgment of human behavior.
Prerequisite technology simulated behavior
In order for the computer to do a task, it by nature needs to learn thence, called Machine learning (ML). That is the scientific grinding of pre-written algorithms and statistical models so it can meritoriously do a precise undertaking without using explicit instructions, instead of relying on patterns and inference. In order for the machine to be able to learn it requires a large amount of data collected for the particular task. As pointed earlier typically sourced via sensors like a smart speaker as a spoken language, written as part of social media content, heat through temperature sensors or visual imagery.
What is Empathic Technology?
A few engineering experts have claimed to have been able to thread the fine line between realism and illusion, by utilizing deep learning technology to detect ones mental and bodily states before we as human are able to detect. In other words, this is accomplished through a set of numerical equations that can specify, discover and predict individuals’ state of mind and psyche from precise and subtle bodily fluctuations detected by the virtue of sensitive sensors, even before we can subjectively comprehend.
So, what is it that is being processed?
Is it the superimposed physical reactions into computer animation as mixed reality experience? OR are we practically forming a mirror image of the person by using of computer software via extracting, transforming and loading (ETL) and recording of physical activities, then reflect it back by pinpointing those subjects likes and dislikes? Or is it merely to complement the person with randomly selected Pavlovian condition?
The Concept of shadow learning
I prefer to use the term “Shadow learning” instead of “empathic technology” because the most technical way to describe what I presume postponement of the concept of “parenting” beyond someone’s’ childhood into the adult life. Where a set of values adopted by parents (AI algorithms) to see, learn, feedback and apply corrective responses that are passed between generations. How about the other influencers? Like multivariate genetic stimuli, an ocean of infinite data to process, which in the event of full execution vulnerable on the push of a bottom by some individual or an entity. I personally see empathy as an expression that can apply to a unique scenario at a specific time and place within a person’s life. In contrast, The Empathic technology is learned response based on clear factors and experience and knowledge of a person no matter how precise and vast, it cannot suffice as the ground of determining how to respond to an individual’s emotions, providing empathy. External factors, ethics, culture, genetics, community, with random collaboration of events at a specific point of time, every single component carries within itself an unlimited sub-options that would be unethical to shine it back on the human by the technology, unless we are advanced enough to implant the human brain on a robot or transpose a technology on man, which I speculate the latter may be easier to meet soon than the former.
Biofeedback and sensory metadata outline the robotic emotional theory or is it nothing but algorithm driven sympathy?!
It will probably need millions of terabytes of data mining, and sophisticated design to ponder one’s reaction in pseudo-sympathy and biofeedback. Learned response by no means is the prerequisite to humanity even though it can serve as a great instrument to enhance what a human being is capable of feeling. Pity and sorrow for someone’s misfortune are accomplished by a robot through a deep learning algorithm but empathy is a trait deemed too specific for humanity, thus imitated but barely replaced.
Simulating biological response as the spurious version of zealous state may be the span between the physical expression of underlying emotional upheaval but ne’er symbolizes the swinging doorway between the two if we intend to keep the external variables within the loop of the human landscape and his defining innovations.
Why do we need empathy?
Empathy is an important constituency of any thrived living, more so of human existence. It is plainly consequential because it helps us realize how someone perceives and reacts to the given circumstance. Typically associated with societal demeanor where greater empathy leads to a greater extent helpful behavior, a character that will be illogical to expect from technology even in its most advanced phase.
Why do we need robots?
Robots have the propensity to be comparatively cheaper to use, perform certain jobs efficiently and at times they are the possible way to carry through certain tasks! For instance, they can explore interior gas tanks, innermost volcanoes, travel across the surface of Mars or other places where is too dangerous for humans to go such as extreme temperatures or contaminated environments. Today, most robots are used to carry out repetitive actions. They are ideal for going into a building that has a possible bomb or used in factories to build like cars, candy bars, and electronics. By coupling them with their software counterpart (artificial intelligence) will make them as humanoid or androids. Artificial intelligence has been classified as reactive, limited memory, the theory of mind and self-aware.
I am not going to distract the topic of this discussion by going into detail on this subject. The focus of this article is to try to conceptualize the notion of humanizing the non-human, and if we need these tools to help us, or we are seeking applause from our peers and predecessors. Doubtless harnessing machine learning technology is by far one of the most superscript levels concurred by the collective try of the human being through the passage of the history, and inherent aptitude that will go on within the hands of future generations to come. Withal, our generations and the generations to come must assure we do not get lost within the process of scientific phylogeny. Meaning- where a need for human touch, we ask to play that part and when we desperately call for technological interference, we are obliged to use it sagely without preconception.
Robotics is and will perpetually equal immortal but will serve up as an immoral bystander of our lives. The resolution to the hairsplitting discrepancy between ultimate humanoid and the human is embedded within the existent human touch.
Let’s now take the concept of empathy and robotics and apply it to medicine and healthcare.
The concept of robotic surgery is mind-blowing so is the idea of machine learning to aid medical professional to narrow down the patient differential diagnostic workup deep into its rarest constituency. Besides confidence in the presumption of artificial intelligence will do physicians’ job is the matter of concern and misunderstanding of what is medicine, healthcare and the art of patient care are understandably worrisome. Then, is robot and machine learning the perfect resolution to our obstacles? Or- Do we need to meet the infinite illusion we have created in ourselves with a solution to express what we wish but not necessarily what we need? In contrast, knowing how that will bear on human lives. Perhaps Applying Technocratic overture to every prospect of our lives, including our well-being and progressive coup of the corporate structure of our daily lives over the last decades has created a scheme lacking that empathy we are looking for!
The recipient of medical care is the one who impotently depends on the sincere, professional, comforting and tailored attentive exertion of the treating physician. A physician, who is trained to treat a person by incorporating personal association first, then collected data second. This is an invaluable trait which is nonexistent to the humanoid, called “Personalized Medicine” which by itself has always meant to serve as the primary prerequisite for laying the groundwork for a medical service that goes beyond socioeconomic and geographic boundaries thence, Healthcare without borders.