The impact of new technology

By Dr. Leslie Ramsammy
Guyana Chronicle
January 15, 2001

THE futurist consultant, Peter Schwartz, wrote: "The single most frequent failure in the history of forecasting has been grossly underestimating the impact of technologies." In the past 30 years computers have increasingly and significantly changed our society, and over the past five years the Internet has further accelerated the change. No segment of any society and no field of endeavour has been left untouched by advances in computers and computer-related technologies. The medical profession has experienced many of these changes and is one of the leading adopters of, and innovators in, technology.

Throughout the developed world and in many developing countries, technology has already transformed the way hospitals and clinics look and how they function. I have chosen to focus on this subject today because as we look to upgrade our health sector, we must understand that technology will have an enormous impact on what we plan to create.

What is important to appreciate with technology is that it radically changes how things look and how we do things and it does so very rapidly. For example, just about 70 years ago a book by Robert and Helen Lynd called "Middletown" about life in middle America was published. It described how technology has changed the way people lived. The following is a passage from this book:

"Local transportation changed from the hoof and sail methods in use at the time of Homer; grain ceased to be cut in the state by thrusting the sickle into the ripened grain as in the days of Ruth; getting a living and making a home ceased to be under the same roof; education was no longer a luxury accessible only to a few; in the field of medicine X-ray, asepsis and anesthestics and other developments tended to make the healing art a science;electricity, telephone, telegraph and radio appeared and the theory of evolution shook the theological cosmogony that had reigned for centuries."

Note that this passage does not mention television, virtual reality, nuclear power, genetic engineering, holographics, space travel, quantum mechanics, computers, robots, CAT scanners or automatic cat litter boxes, to name a few of the technological marvels of the past few decades. For the Lynds and for others of that time, today's world would appear like a fiction of their imagination. But yesterday's fiction is now today's reality.

Not being able to anticipate the emergence of new technology and the impact such technology may have on how we do things can have enormously negative impact on our planning. The ability to anticipate technology and to access technology now threatens to be another barrier between the haves and the have-nots.

The fact is that the healthcare system that exists 30 years from now will be unrecognisable to those of us who live today. Among the changes that are likely are:

** Intelligent subminiature drug user and tissue manufacturing machine processes that can be implanted in the body to perform medical and surgical tasks.

** Autonomous mobile robots driven by software and possessing more than human levels of intelligence, at least in specific domains of knowledge and expertise, as well as superhuman sensory perception and manipulative capabilities. These mobile robots will possess the manual dexterity to perform microsurgery too delicate for human hands, not to mention such other things such as physiotherapy, nursing, plant maintenance and janitorial tasks.

Science fiction? Wanna bet?

Follow the goings-on in Guyana
in Guyana Today