During a sunny weekend in  September, University of Oxford surgeons at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital have performed the world’s first internal eye operation using a robot. How comfortable would you have felt about being the pioneering patient? 

robot surgeonsI had an interesting discussion with someone who had undergone laser eye surgery in 2012 conducted solely by a robot. She recalled having a moment of panic when she realised that a robot was going to be slicing her eye open and applying a laser to this most precious of human organs. The only other human present in the room had the sole function of holding the patient’s hand and care for her during this intense experience.

It all went well- a wonderful example of silicon symbiosis: humans working alongside tech to deliver an excellent surgical outcome. Of course, had the human been terse, uncaring, unable to connect and comfort her then this could have been a pretty traumatic afternoon for her. 

So, as our tech gets more emotionally sophisticated, are we responsively raising our game to match the tech with our care? The recent acquisition of Affectiva.com (facial emotion recognition software) by Apple demonstrates the level of interest in quantifying emotion.

Having spent today’s workshop focusing on this, I am heartened to see my hero Paul Ekman‘s work on the six core expressions being used as the basis for research and application. If you were the human comforting someone during an operation, would you be better than a robot in detecting if your patient was expressing fear or surprise? 

Test yourself at your next meeting, or family dinner… Scan the room to see if you can label the emotion behind the expressions. A robot may assess quicker than you, but us humans are phenomenal at using our intuition (I define this as ‘observations below the radar’) to decide the next emotionally appropriate action to take. Ignore or acknowledge?

The robots are coming, look busy! (In a calm way otherwise your Fitbit is going to log it as emotional distress and who knows where that data might be going…)

Laura x