(CBS SF) — At some point, it’s inevitable that machines will become better than humans at certain tasks. For surgeons, that day may be here soon as the Da Vinci surgical robot performs surgery on a grape inside of a glass flask, sewing the tiny fruit’s skin back on with amazing dexterity.
In the Youtube video from a company demonstration, you can see the tiny robotic “fingers” deftly pick up grape “flesh” inside of a glass flask, maneuver it in place and sew the skin back together in the “Single Site Technology.” That little grape is definitely going to pull through.
If that’s impressive, imagine if the robot could have done a similar thing five years ago. Apparently the 2015 video is a refinement of the robotic controls the were first able to do similar things back in 2010.
Da Vinci Surgical Systems has been used in 1.5 million surgical procedures worldwide, according to da Vinci.
If robotic surgery seems as obvious as unmanned spaceflight, automated assembly lines, and smart sensors in your microwave, what will the next wave of machine-enhanced tasks look like?
For things like driving a bus through traffic, evaluating whether a person running toward you is a knife-wielding attacker or a toddler with a Popsicle, and writing news articles it’s slowly been moving in favor of machines but it’s not quite there.
The amazing reality, though is that these other developments are not far off as more and more robots and software bots–and robots assisted by the software–are doing these tasks with shocking success.
Google’s driverless cars, while they’ve been in a few fender benders recently, are still able to do the unthinkable, maneuvering down complex roads and avoiding pedestrians.
Smart security cameras are increasingly able to detect and determine the threat of an image. This is being tested at airports and security checkpoints already.
Robot security guards are even being tested in some Silicon Valley businesses.
And, as for journalists?
This article was written by a flesh-and-blood, old-fashioned human, but increasingly sites like the Los Angeles Times are writing formulaic stories like earthquakes using software. The Times even uses it to report homicides, in fact the quake bot was patterned after the computerized crime reporter.
Creator Ken Schwencke tells Slate, “The way we use it, it’s supplemental. It saves people a lot of time, and for certain types of stories, it gets the information out there in usually about as good a way as anybody else would. The way I see it is, it doesn’t eliminate anybody’s job as much as it makes everybody’s job more interesting.”
“Quakebot” plugs in the amounts and locations (the variables) into a basic formula, and publishes it immediately so the vast news-consuming public can find it. Later, a human can go back and add details if it’s important enough.
Similar technologies are pushing out content you’re already reading about stock prices, weather reports, and sports scores.
It’s all just a question of what the tipping point is for each task.
For surgery? It seems the robots are gaining quite a bit of ground over clumsy ham-handed surgeons needing to remove half your skull to get enough room to tie a stitch. Robots sound really good for things like that.
The question is when the surgeon can step away, and hit a button that says “appendectomy” and off the robot goes, just like ordering a latte from a vending machine.