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The 4th Industrial Revolution and its Implications for Healthcare

(This was the prepared text of my Opening Statement at the QITCOM Forum on Innovative Strategies for Healthier Societies, 8 March 2017, Qatar National Convention Center)

Many thanks to the organizers for the invitation. I’m really happy to be here.

I’d like to demonstrate where we are at the technology space right now. We have a water bottle here and we have this robot arm that opens and closes its grasp. This robot arm is around $20,000. We can still see the limitations of this state of the art robot arm. As you can see, the water bottle was crushed. What is missing is feedback and accurate data. I’ll go back to this.

Let me tell you more about the 4th Industrial Revolution.

The 4th Industrial Revolution was main theme of last year’s World Economic Forum. Steam, mechanical production equipment powered the 1st Industrial Revolution. Around one century later, there was the division of labor, electricity and mass production. Another century later, there was the digital revolution.

Right now, we are at the cusp of that revolution, which means that cyber and physical systems are being intertwined. Cyber, roughly speaking, this means software/computer networks and physical means physical objects.

Going back to the robot arm, we can see that this is not yet an ideal cyber-physical system. Looking forward, what should this arm do? It should have sensors for contact. This arm should know that this object is plastic. This robotic arm is limited because it is not connected to the eyes. This arm should be smart enough to know that the water bottle is plastic and it is empty and the arm should apply a certain amount of grasping force to the bottle. The bottle was crushed earlier because there was no feedback. What is challenging for us is to speed up the feedback loop and detect any slippage of an object in 100 milliseconds. This robotic arm is still quite futuristic.

Here’s another practical example. I am wearing a smart watch. What’s good about this is that thanks to the opening of the conference and exhibits, my watch recorded 12,500 steps for that day. I knew my weight in the morning because my weighing scale is hooked up to the cloud. In the evening, my weighing scale showed that I lost 2 kg for that day. What does this show you? That immediate feedback, that accurate and immediate feedback is an important component of an effective cyber-physical system. How do we influence or change human behavior and habits? We need to give them accurate and immediate feedback.

We go to Industrial Robotics. From this quasi-linear trend, we can see the rise in supply of robotics worldwide. Healthcare technologies and robotics are interconnected because we are dealing with the same core technologies: motors, sensors, software, internet, advanced structural materials.

This is an example of how cars are built now – with robots. How does Amazon do its logistics? Those orange boxes on the floor– those are robots. Robots have replaced humans. It’s inevitable.

Here we can see the state of worldwide robotics industry. The growth is exponential. Robotics is here to stay. The blue bars are for the industrial robots. If you look at the red, yellow, and gray, these are robots for the home, for medicine, and robots for the public sector. Here are examples of home robots, surgical robotics (we have about 10 of these in Qatar). This is not a spider but this is a drone that collaborates with human in an inspection task.

How serious is the situation? Are robots just a fad? Two weeks ago, Bill Gates had a proposal on taxing robots. If the robot takes your job, they should pay taxes. Where will the taxes go? He proposed that the tax show go to tasks that robots cannot do. Those are the jobs that are more human, jobs where robots cannot compete with humans. These are related to the values that we have for empathy, for compassion, and for caring.

In the future, the hope is to have more support for education, elderly care, and for children with special needs.

What makes great societies is on how it takes care of the elderly, children, and children with special needs. Qatar is one of those places. You heard the Prime Minister talk about that in his opening speech.

At Qatar University, and thanks to Qatar National Research Fund, my team is working on healthcare robotics for cancer screening. We are doing work on lifelike prosthetics. We can reach up to 99% accuracy in shape replication. We are deploying social robots in a special needs center. We found that children like to interact with social robots because they are less complicated than humans.

We do have high-impact research and development activities in Qatar, primarily at Qatar University, in all the key areas for the Smart Nations Program: transportation, logistics, environment, healthcare, and sports. Let’s maximize homegrown research and talent for Qatar’s smart future.

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