Babak Parviz says he sold Google (NSDQ:GOOG) a vision of an autonomous surgical robot in 2010. His vision put the patient under the knife of a completely autonomous surgeon which would bring with it lightning-fast reaction times and super-human dexterity, along with the ability to be mass produced.
“I founded the robot surgery program at Google. We rely on the dexterity of human surgeons but now we know machines are quite a bit more precise than humans. If you want to do things with extreme precision, a machine would be better,” Parviz told Backchannel.
While doctors would still make decision to operate, the robotic system would be able to react exponentially faster to incidents, such as leaking blood vessels. The increased reaction time would decrease blood loss and surgery times, putting patients in vulnerable positions, such as under anesthesia, for less time.
“Conventional surgery is fundamentally limited by how fast humans can make a decision, and how fast humans can mechanically move an instrument. We know that machines can do things much faster, both mechanically and even decision making. Using a machine opens up opportunities for surgeries that are not even possible with a normal human hand,” Parviz said.
Beyond being more accurate, due the superior dexterity of robotics, the innovation could significantly speed up surgical procedures. Each hour of surgery increases the risk of a blood clot by 25%, Backchannel said.
Parviz initially signed on with the company’s Google X division, which looked at ‘moonshot’ technologies that could have a significant impact on society. Parviz started by worked on Google Glass, a wearable computer being developed by the company that saw production halted earlier this year, and later worked on its gluocose-sensing contact lens development. Parviz has since moved on to Amazon.
But Parviz thinks autonomous surgery could be the biggest thing so far for Google, even larger than its autonomous car systems, which it’s managed to clock 1.3 million miles on without causing an accident. Because of the tech Google has developed for its autonomous cars, which utilize advanced computer vision and machine learning, Parviz said the company has an opportunity to get the jump on development of the automated robotic surgery tech.
“At the moment, we don’t already have commercially deployed self-driving cars, but we do have commercially deployed robotic surgeons,” Parviz said.
Parviz said the robotic surgical systems could make for a more egalitarian health environment in the future, as surgical robots can be mass produced, while human surgeons require years of specialized training.
“For thousands of years, we have had one human surgeon training another human surgeon. But we know machines scale better than humans. If we can train a good machine surgeon that can be replicated and deployed very quickly, it could make surgery accessible to a lot of people right now that don’t have access to it,” Parviz said.
But the future of solo-robots in the OR is still a ways off, said Parviz.
“By no means I’m saying this is immediate, by no means I’m saying this is easy, by no means I’m saying this is even going to be cheap initially. At least for the foreseeable future, we’ll have human surgeons making decisions, but the machine will execute depending on what the surgeon has decided.”