All humans, animals and machines in our world have their own strength and weaknesses, positives and negatives, advantages and limitations. For robotic and human surgeons, there are many.
Robot strengths and limitations
Robots are amazing; they function like no human with only electricity and software. However, robots in surgery operate on a whole other level. These machines can run non-stop for however long it takes to complete the surgery whether it is succeeds or fails (Health and Wellbeing 2007). Harvard 2005 and Heart Surgery 2006 state that robotic surgeons, such as the Da Vinci system TM, are stable, untiring, quiet machines that will perform heart surgery in 50 minutes and not even blink with disgust. These robots are not “squeamish”. They cannot be infected with AIDS or other diseases and are resistant to radiation (Harvard 2005). In addition, these robots have great geometric accuracy and can use diverse sensors (chemical, force, acoustic, etc.) in surgery (Harvard 2005, BMJ 2007). These “surgeons” can also be designed for a large range of scales and are sterilized rather easily.
Alongside their strengths are their weaknesses, both internal and external, their shortcomings consist mostly in areas of simple human characteristics (Harvard 2005). While amazing surgeons, robots would go nowhere if they had to think and analyze for themselves, at least not with current technology. Health and Wellbeing 2007 states that robotic surgeons have terrible judgment, limited dexterity and hand-eye coordination. These simple human characteristics come that natural to us. Robots are not people though, so they are weak in these areas and humans must improve them in the future for the sake of robotic surgery and saving people’s lives. In addition to these limitations, their technology, if very sophisticated, is limited to only one type of surgery for a given robotic surgeon. This means that a hospital would have to invest in many robots to cover all their surgery. Also, technology is in a state of flux. In other words, it is evolving and can be unstable at times. These robots can perform heart surgery, but cannot complete relatively simple procedures like mending bones (Harvard 2005).
Robotic surgeons are amazing advantages to have in the medical field. However, they are still in their infancy and are far from ready to replace humans.
Human strengths and limitations
The strengths of human surgeons are basically the weaknesses of robot surgeons and vice versa. Humans have strong hand-eye coordination and are extremely dexterous at a human scale (Harvard 2005). Humans are flexible (varies from surgeon to surgeon), adaptive and most have great judgment. Health and Wellbeing 2007 declares that these surgeons can integrate extensive and diverse information and, can use qualitative information rather easily. Finally, human surgeons are easy to instruct and debrief, that is, if they are patient (da Vinci System 2004).
As for the weaknesses of human surgeons, they are such as to make a grave difference. For example, humans are prone to fatigue and tremor, which can cause major problems if a surgeon’s hand jerks suddenly (Harvard 2005). As well, our hands are not developed enough to make such fine and subtle movements inside a patient’s body and they have limited dexterity outside of the natural scale (Health and Wellbeing 2007). As stated by Heart Surgery 2006, humans do not have the fine geometric systems internally that robots do. Consequently, they have limited geometric accuracy. Finally, human surgeons are extremely susceptible to infection and radiation (Harvard 2005, Health and Wellbeing 2007).