"The robots aren't coming. If I see a robot coming to kill me, I'll just look for the off-switch or how I can unplug it". I'm ever so slightly paraphrasing Pete Trainor, one of yesterday's speakers at Wired Health 2018, but this was the jist of what he said to me over a coffee as we discussed AI, robotics and  its place in the the world. 

And if I can draw a theme from yesterday's excellent Wired Health event held at the very impressive Francis Crick Institute, it's that AI, robotics and digital technology are not here to replace people in healthcare provision. Rather, they are here to augment and "scale-up" the amount that a healthcare professional can do. This was a theme which was alighted on by a number of speakers. 

Pete was actually attending Wired Health to present a robot that he's worked on with Bots and Us. The robot they demonstrated has been accompanying a gentleman with a terminal illness. The robot is like a "data hoover", capturing as much information about this person as possible and relaying it into the cloud for analysis. Pete showed how this kind of robotics could augment and support not only future healthcare provision, but palliative care as well. The robot can act as both a permanent companion and "always on" tricorder to capture medical data about a patient.

We heard from Claire Novorol, founder and CMO of Ada, a HealthTech company which offers what they call a “personal health guide”. This is an AI-powered app which can ask questions and provide suggestions to users. The app now works on Alexa, so it can help offer potential healthcare advice via voice interface. She established the business case for Ada very effectively. In China and India doctors average 2 minutes per patient. It’s not good for doctors, and it’s not good for patients, and it doesn’t help the doctor-patient relationship. In the UK our own NHS is very strained. Clearly we need to look at ways we can use technology to help Healthcare Professionals to scale and meet the increasing demands of tomorrow. The app enables people to connect with a doctor after asking a few questions, helping to triage patients before they speak to a Healthcare Professional.

We also saw a presentation from BenevolentBio, the biotechnology arm of one of the world’s leading AI companies BenevolentAI. Their CEO Jackie Hunter asserted that we are failing to translate the wealth of data that we have globally into scientific breakthroughs. The average scientist can only read 300-400 medical paper per year, but 3,000 papers are published every single day. Again, we are limited as people, and need technological help to see across the sum total of medical knowledge and research, and find novel solutions and remedies. BenevolentBio has a knowledge graph of over 1.3 billion relationships, which is beyond anything a person could conceptualise. This liberates the scientists, in their description, to go beyond their specific areas of expertise and look beyond to discover new treatments.

Dementia is massively increasing condition, which presents huge challenges from a resourcing perspective to healthcare providers. It’s already the costliest disease for the NHS, greater than cancer and cardio vascular diseases combined. Dementia is a long term, progressive condition, which can be diagnosed early on is they have challenges with spatial navigation. Michael Hornberger presented a mobile game called Sea Hero Quest which he’d developed to test players and their spatial awareness, to help diagnose possible future propensity for dementia. The game has 3.7m users, which has created an enormous pool of data which can be used to better understand spatial awareness across demographics and ages, which would take a human research team a lifetime to collect from in-person, moderated tests.

All of these different businesses, with different digital services and offerings, each made me feel more confident about the role of people in the provision of healthcare in the future. The robots might be coming, but it looks like they are here to help.