During Thursday’s Opening Session at The National, David G. Armstrong, DPM, MD, PhD, welcomed attendees with a visionary keynote address on “How Technology is Changing What Makes Us … Us.”
Dr. Armstrong, who is professor of surgery at the University of Arizona, deputy director of the Arizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation, and cofounder of the Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance, spoke about a range of futuristic technologies that may change the course of health care and, ultimately, humanity.
From $70,000 smart socks that sense hot spots and pressure points on the soles of the feet to a bath mat that Dr. Armstrong called “OnStar for your body,” the technologies becoming available represent dramatic leaps ahead. Wearable robots that can recognize the intent to move and provide added strength and support have become a reality, and amputees or those with impaired mobility can use technology to move real-life avatars remotely. Contact lenses with a built-in LED monitor and engineered memory devices that record a user’s entire day are prompting questions about where machines end and humans begin.
With such ultramodern tools as his subject matter, Dr. Armstrong interestingly chose a 17th century concept as the crux of his talk. Philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote about a social contract between citizens and their government that protected them from lives that were “nasty, brutish, and short.” Dr. Armstrong cautioned that in the face of a technological revolution, society—and health-care practitioners in particular—must begin to question whether we are advancing the quality of life or creating lives that are “nasty, brutish, and long.”
Instead of playing God with technology, he postulated, physicians will have to approach care with a sense of humility and the goal of delaying diseases of decay, such as diabetes and vascular disease, rather than defeating them.