The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) represents a path to normalizing a relationship between humans, robots and Super Computers. It determines the acceptance between humanity, artificial intelligence, machine learning and the Internet of things.1 According to experts at the Professional Services and auditing firm PwC says that the country’s competitors are all adopting 4IR technologies and developing their workforce and, if South Africa fails to follow suit, the nation’s industrial manufacturing sector will continue to fall behind and de-industrialize.2 The firm recommends that industry leaders invest in strategies which are more technology and sustainability focused to create a culture that will help them stay relevant, attract and retain employees, improve productivity and make an impact, inside and outside of the workplace.3
PwC believes South Africa has positioned itself as a prime manufacturing hub on the African continent, with its Industrial hub on the African continent, with its industrial manufacturing industry serving as a crucial multiplier of economic growth, an engine of development and a significant contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).4 In 2022, the sector contributed 11.4 %, or R3-trillion, toward the country’s GDP. Today, about 1.5 million people work in industrial manufacturing, and are witnessing progression at a rapid space withing the sector.5 The new technologies are already changing the face of manufacturing.6 Factories are becoming increasingly connected, as machines talk to one another and to humans, and automation reached new milestones with robots becoming more independent.5 Artificial Intelligence will increasing lead to humans becoming more independent, and will likely have its impact on the medical field.7
Hospitals in the public and private sectors have had to adapt to the changing population dynamics they are dealing with. The Covid-19 pandemic, for instance, has forced public and private practitioners to look beyond the traditional model of reporting symptoms and performing tests at hospitals.
Patient-centric, digital-first and contactless strategies are becoming increasingly important, particularly for developing countries, as system gaps in healthcare delivery grow.
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There’s no denying that Covid-19 accentuated existing challenges in the healthcare sector. However, it has also inspired innovation and the use of fourth industrial revolution (4IR) technologies that seek to transform the healthcare industry. 4IR has changed how institutions treat and diagnose patients and manage and organise health systems.
Some of the significant 4IR trends driving transformation in the healthcare sector include:
- The exponential growth of data and the development of new technologies for storing, processing, and analysing it;
- The rise of artificial intelligence(AI) and its application to medical decision-making;
- The increasing use of 3D printing and other technologies in the development of new medical devices and treatments;
- The emergence of the “connected patient” who is increasingly involved in their health and wellness;
- The shift from a “sick care” to a “preventive care” model of health; and
- Greater awareness of data etiquette, privacy and ethics.
Each trend is leading to a fundamental change in how care is delivered and received. In 2020, for instance, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and Kanagawa Prefecture launched an innovative healthcare platform that integrates wearable-device monitoring with online medication guidance and drug delivery. Through Care for One, patients, caregivers and their loved ones are connected and caregivers can monitor symptoms and share data between themselves and healthcare professionals to reduce the burden of hospital visits. (How the fourth industrial revolution is changing healthcare for the better)
So artificial intelligence, machine learning etc will play their roles in the medical fields. Adaptation to the changing environment is the name of the game. Introducing AI like super computers (computers programmed with an independent intelligence) to hospitals to help manage data inflows and diagnoses may sound like a good idea but what role will robotics play in the medical field? Yes, introducing AI and ML could help alleviate the risks to doctors’ health especially in times of crisis like Covid. However, to what extent will robotics be brought in to the medical profession, especially surgery. Will patients be willing to put their lives in the hands of robots? This question will arise when it comes to surgery and whether the automatons and robots will be able to perform such delicate procedures. Will the robots/droids/automatons be under the direction of humans?
- The reference to the growth of data can refer to storing of medical information on patients, their health care plans, diagnoses and symptoms. Artificial intelligence in the form of super computers will be used to store that data, process it and analyse it for the doctors (If they are still around).
- The application to medical decision making, is not a good idea as regards to AI, placing a super computer in charge of human lives could have consequences for the patient if they malfunction, something else goes wrong with their programming.
- 3D Printing is a good form of manufacturing and is possibly the least harmful of the fourth Industrial Revolution implementations. It can be used as an efficient way to create fully formed medical utensils.
- Artificial intelligence carries its own risks. What do they mean by a connected patient, are they referring to some one continuously online, someone who can register online with their doctors for appointments? Do they do so with the press of a button on a cell phone or an I pad?
- Prevention is said to better than a cure. But the vast majority can be communicated about this through education. How can AI apply the data of medical patients to find the illnesses they can prevent?
- Privacy, data etiquette and ethics are essential for any major organization including a hospital, so how will AI in terms of super computers and automatons be able to apply.
There needs to be strict observation and examination by humans of AI. The need for regulation is a necessity for observing the progress of AI and ML. As they progress to become independent automatons, they need to be observed. They may progress to become more intelligent than the average human but they are still machines. Machines capable of independent thought but machines none the less. There advancement comes at the expense of human progress. If some of these AI electronics can be use to improve the work done by medical practitioners, then this is good. Only time will tell how this plays out.