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The do-it-yourself meeting the virtual doctor

Amazon Echo can make access to the web even easier, and may be opening up a Pandora box of side-effects. Image credit: Andrew Matthews | PA Images

Do it yourself is a great thing. Actually, in the past it was the only way to do things, our ancestors had to chip stones, bend reeds to tie the stone to a club, go hunting do the cooking with self made pots and so on. This changed little over thousands of years. It is a relatively recent alternative to find ready made stuff and more recently ready available information.

The do it yourself is back. However, this is not necessarily a good thing. Our ancestors had the knowledge supporting their “do it yourself”, we, on the contrary, lack this knowledge, most of the time. particularly when we are dealing with information. The nightmare of fake news is on us and we not prepared to face them.

It is not just fake news, it is also about getting information without the conceptual tools (mindset and knowledge) to process it.

This is why I read the news of the partnering of the UK National Health Serivce with Amazon to use Echo as a way to access health information. Per sé the idea is a good one. Turn to an ever present butler that can connect us with medical information. Having headache and finding a box of pills in the drawer? Ask Alexa (Echo) if it is ok to get those pills. Echo will connect to the web searching for relevant information and connecting it to us. Being suspicious on a skin rash? Ask Alexa what are the symptoms for chickenpox…

Clearly, the UK NHS is a most trusted organisation but I am not sure I am to be trusted in understanding what the answer will be.  I just finished to read “Cell” by Robin Cook (if you are interested in the future of medicine and the potential downside of it than this is the book) where an app, the iDoc, is replacing the doctor providing enormous advantage both to patients (having their customised doctor at their side 24/7) and to the health care system that can dramatically decrease cost. I don’t want to spoil the pleasure of reading the book by revealing the plot but take it from me the downsides may be scaring.

It is not that doctors never get it wrong and we suffer from their mistakes. It is that in several areas swapping knowledge with pre-fabricated pills of knowledge that may be mistaken by real knowledge can be dangerous. In my opinion one is better off not knowing something than being mistaken in believing to know it. If you are aware you don’t know something and you need that knowledge you will look for it. If you feel you have the answer (and it is not true) than you might have a problem.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.