The Paradox of Empathetic Transference in Medicine

Updated: Aug 15

Empathic Technology Vs. Algorithmic Sympathy

Originally published by Data Driven Investor on Medium

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

Historically, the Human being has had an overzealous fascination with technology. Throughout generations, human has even labeled the eras by their corresponding technological achievements, such as Renaissance technological insurgency from 1340 to 1470 AD to mechanization in the late 1800s to linking commercial networks and enterprises by the 1990s. The latter marked the beginning of the modern Internet. That was the kind of achievement; set the highest bar for the past centuries and decades to come.

Humankind has tried to integrate technology into its curriculum. Over time his enthrallment with mechanical, digital, and mathematics was shaped and hybridized into activities by incorporating robotics, machine learning, or artificial intelligence.

For centuries, Human being has perpetually struggled with separating dreams from reality as he frequently 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 departed asunder from moral values that often overhauled defined human values for the past centuries.

Indeed, we appear to have been relentlessly distracted by the fruit of our tree. One such distraction to point to is “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 brought the unrealistic to existence by enabling the robot to sense humankind’s emotional state utilizing machine learning, sensors, and algorithms and retort through 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 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 to execute 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 mechanical action.

The word “robotics” was coined by a Russian-born American science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov who foremost called it “Runabout 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 built a reprogrammed schemer called “Unimate,” sponsored by “Universal Automation.” This opened the course for creating 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 and 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 failure to act. Then he insisted that robots must obey the orders given by human beings except where such orders would cause harm to humankind. Last but not least, a robot must protect its existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first two Laws.

Human life, robotics, and the ultimate frontier

Humankind, although capable, yet perpetually stride to ad-lib and excel. When unable, he is inclined to seek the ultimate superpower. By taking it one step farther, he even finds ways to preserve his competitive edge to dominate the mission he has started from birth.

Some have incorporated faith and religion into their rituals; few take consolidated overture for an ideology they entrust, where others invest their trust 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 the human desire to reach the peak despite his cognizance of how the product of his vision and creativity can be just as malicious as beneficial. So, he has tried to set ethical rules to prevent the harmful side effects of his innovation. Logically The precision, Efficiency, power, and endurance have invariably been the driving factors behind advancing machine learning invention frontline yet conflicting with what meant to serve or with which they interfere.

How about Medical Science and Healthcare?

We have witnessed significant developments across all industries and 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. Innovative speaker technologies offered by Google & Alexa of Amazon, to scooters on the streets to walking talking robots to shadow a person around learn human routines 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 millennials. This has created an overwhelming problem, particularly for the technocrats of the 21st century. To genuinely infer this topic, we need to define empathy, sensitivity, and existent behavior. The power to realize and share the feelings and the quality or condition of being sensitive is fundamental to acknowledging human behavior.

Prerequisite technology simulated behavior

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 to meritoriously do a precise undertaking without using explicit instructions instead of relying on patterns and inference. For the machine 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 tread the fine line between realism and illusion by utilizing deep learning technology to detect mental and bodily states before we as humans can see them. 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 under 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 using computer software via extracting, transforming, and loading (ETL) and recording physical activities, then reflecting it by pinpointing those subjects' likes and dislikes? Or is it merely to complement the person with randomly selected Pavlovian condition?