Researchers are developing an AI system that stitches wounds. What are the implications of this?
What does it mean?
UC Berkeley and Intel are developing an AI system that can stitch wounds almost perfectly. The AI has learned by imitation, by watching 80 videos of doctors carrying out the task. No AI system will be stitching wounds to real patients any time soon, but this is another advance on possible tasks that could be carried out by autonomous robots and free up time for doctors or nurses to work on more value-added tasks.
The shortcomings of robots unable to carry out simple manual tasks like unscrewing a cork or folding a towel are well documented in the scientific literature, but this news is another indication that technology in this area is advancing, maybe slowly if we compare it to other fields in AI and robotics, but yet inexorably.
This signals a change towards a world in which AI is increasingly more capable of undertaking manual tasks that require dexterity and the use of adequate levels of force and pressure. Could we also see robots undertaking other nursing tasks, delivering revitalizing massages or producing haircuts with millimeter precision? We are far from that yet, but technology will only get better, not worse, and it is a question of when, not if.
When that happens, another bastion defending a job category that seemed to be safe from the risks of automation, that of jobs requiring manual dexterity, will fall.
This technology is still in embryonic stage and it will take time until it is used in real hospitals to stitch real wounds. The AI system learned by watching around 80 videos and practicing on a dummy piece of cloth replacing a human body part. This is a relatively small sample and, like all AI systems, this one also will get better and better with data, so it will have to keep watching and experimenting until it gets good enough to be able to pass the necessary tests that will allow it to be used with humans.
Once that happens, it will only get better as it practices more and more, and all the learnings and improvements will be copied (with no mistakes), replicated and downloaded to all the robots using the technology. Perfect replicability and scalability are yet again some of the advantages AI has over humans.