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Professor Kevin Warwick is pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence and cyborg technologies How can artificial intelligence (AI ) improve healthcare? AI can be used to learn what is going on in different parts of the body and to predict problems. This gives us the power to prevent problems before they arise or to counteract malfunctions which are detected by sensors. Could you give us an example that will be part of the near future? One immediate application is in the use of deep brain stimulation or DBS. This technology is already used in people with Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy or depression to stimulate the nervous system with electrical pulses in order to alleviate symptoms. AI allows us to take it a step further by predicting when stimulation is needed. This means we could apply DBS before the patient experiences symptoms. What areas of future research are most exciting? An interesting area is the use of cultured neural networks. Typically, we use neurons (brain cells) taken from rat embryos and connect them to a robot. Sensors from the robot stimulate the culture and we have observed different pathways in the cell culture changing the direction of the robot. How do you do this? Firstly, we separate the brain cells using enzymes and them lay them out on a multi-electrode array (essentially a small dish). Very quickly the neurons start connecting with each other. We have to feed the brain cells using minerals and nutrients. The growing brain, consisting of approx. 150,000 cells has to be kept in an incubator at a controlled temperature of 37 degrees C. After about 10 days the brain has lots of connections so we give it a body. The brain is connected to its body, bi-directionally, via a Bluetooth link. Sensory signals from the robot body...
Gaming and simulations can engage surgeons in ways that traditional medical education does not, says Professor Marlies Schijven who has shown the power of play in improving surgical skills. As a surgeon, game developer and app inventor – among other things – she is also on the cutting edge of using wearable technologies in the operating room and was the first person to live-stream abdominal surgery on YouTube via Google Glass. What is serious gaming? Serious gaming uses the principles of playful technology and the power of play to get an educational message across without people feeling as though they are being taught. The key is to wrap educational content into the game, in such a way that it is not perceived as ‘homework’. How can gaming and simulations help surgeons? This approach can be used to train anyone - but it has great potential in teaching surgical skills. It is very important to have game designers involved in developing the games otherwise it will just become another boring e-learning module or tedious task. I have shown that, compared to traditional training methods, well-designed simulations and games actually make for better, more competent surgeons. How did you become interested in working with game designers? For me, it was natural. Before I studied medicine, I studied for some time in a design academy so I can pretty much understand the way designers think and I value their approach. Good serious games are developed by good designers in collaboration with content experts. You have also been experimenting with wearable devices in the operating theatre. What do these technologies do for surgeons? To give one example, you often need to control computers or other devices whilst performing surgery. If this means typing on a keyboard or touching a mouse, you would have to...