The tip of the Artifical Intelligence iceberg

As our populations age, opportunities are being identified for the use of technology in helping monitor or provide care for people in their latter years. Simple, technology such as mats to monitor when someone gets out of a bed or emergency buttons to call assistance have been in place for many years.

The holy grail of healthcare, for some is the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) with computers and then linked to people to assist in areas where our natural intelligence may be failing. While the movement towards increased technology use is being driven by rising care costs and labour shortages, there is also the motivation to earn big dollars from the market.

Professor Hans Guesgen, from Massey University is an acknowledged expert in AI and its applications. Japanese manufacturers lead the world in the development of technology for health care and aged care, having invested more than $200M during recent years into the development of robotics for this purpose. With a rapidly ageing society and virtually instant uptake of any new technology the Japanese market provides a fertile testing ground. A recent Greenpeace report into emerging technologies pointed out the United States Government has invested more than $710M into nanotechnology research. In the ten years from 1989-99 the number of AI-related patents in the USA increased from 100-1700.

There is no doubt much hyped technology remains on the laboratory benchtop and even if commercially viable would likely be exhorbitantly expensive – but back in the 1960’s it was considered there was only a need for six of IBM’s big blue computers in the entire world. Look at what happened there. We must also consider that our global perspective often takes in only that small proportion of the population currently living in the developed nations. They form less than a quarter of the worlds total population. There are powerful forces driving the development of technology to help address the needs of the far larger population that lives in the developing nations. Just because we cannot see, touch or sense something at present does not mean it will never happen.

Not only do the cost barriers need to be overcome but so do the ethical and moral barriers to both development and application of emerging technologies. While the developed world often tends to take the ethical highground, even if somewhat hypocratically at times, many of the developing nations do not feel constrained by a similar set of ethics or morals. Assuming these nations will adopt Western ideals is likely to be a false assumption.

It remains a challenge for each of use to get our heads around the many implications and to reconcile our perspectives of a world where we appear to be in control with the realities imposed upon us by ageing, increasing costs and limited resources.

Those are my thoughts for the day
John Coxon


About John Coxon

Principal consultant for John Coxon & Associates, a management consultancy working with boards and management teams in healthcare, aged care and not for profit organisations to develop effective strategic planning processes and social enterprise business plans
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