More expensive, takes longer than usual, not particularly brilliant. Yes, it's your robot surgeon

Also, AI isn't really doing much for the economy

Robot-assisted surgery costs more time and money than traditional methods, but isn't more effective, for certain types of operations.

Laparoscopic surgery, which involves one or more small incisions suited to a laparoscope rather than large cut, tends to preferable when it's an option because it's minimally invasive. For kidney removal, it has been a standard procedure for years and, increasingly, robotic assistance is involved. The technique is also used for dealing with rectal cancer, where robotic assistance is also becoming more common.

In a study of almost 24,000 laparoscopic surgeries just published in The Journal of American Medicine, researchers from Stanford University School of Medicine analyzed data from 416 hospitals around the US from 2003 to 2015.

Robotic assistance provides 3D-visualization, a broader range of motion for instruments, and better ergonomics for physicians, according to the study. While it has advantages in scenarios where a high-degree of precision is required or where improved outcomes have been demonstrated (like radical prostatectomy), it appears to be a waste of resources for the two operations examined.

The researchers, led by Stanford visiting scholar Gab Jeong, weighed outcomes for both robot-assisted and traditional laparoscopic kidney removal and rectal resection. With kidney surgery, they found that where surgeons used a robot, the procedure time dragged on more than four hours in 46.3 per cent of cases, compared to just 28.5 per cent of cases where the surgeon worked without a mechanical assistant.

pic from imperial colllege study

Behold the ROBOT RECTUM... medics' relief


The average cost of the hospital stay was about $2,678 more per patient when a robot was involved, costs the researchers attributed to operating room and supply charges.

In the case of rectal cancer surgery, robots added $1,132 to the mean cost and 37.5 minutes to the mean procedure time.

But the patient outcomes were more or less the same.

A thematically-related economic study presented by the National Bureau for Economic Research on Monday suggests that while AI and machine learning have received substantial investment over the past five years and have been widely touted as a transformative technologies, "there is little sign that they have yet affected aggregate productivity statistics."

"The simplest possibility is that the optimism about the potential technologies is misplaced and unfounded," muse Erik Brynjolfsson and Daniel Rock (MIT), Chad Syverson (University of Chicago) in the paper.

But shying away from Occam's Razor, authors prefer to argue that we just need to wait while the economy adapts.

"Realizing the benefits of AI is far from automatic," they conclude. "It will require effort and entrepreneurship to develop the needed complements, and adaptability at the individual, organizational, and societal levels to undertake the associated restructuring."

While awaiting technology's socio-economic bounty, enjoy the fact that between 2005 and 2015, the average annual labor productivity growth rates across 30 OECD countries was a mere 1.1 per cent, less than half what it was from 1995 to 2004 and the fact that "real median income has stagnated since the late 1990s and non-economic measures of well-being, like life expectancy, have fallen for some groups." ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Other stories you might like

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022