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Brave new world

Imagine being able to switch your contact lenses to telescope mode or use your prosthetic hand as a power tool. As the boundaries between healthcare and technology become increasingly blurred, these things may one day be possible.

Read more Last updated: 2018-01-03

Imagine being able to switch your contact lenses to telescope mode or use your prosthetic hand as a power tool. As the boundaries between healthcare and technology become increasingly blurred, these things may one day be possible.

Troed Troedson by Troed Troedson
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Reading duration: 2 minutes

The future

may be an unwritten story but there are some clues to the road that lies ahead. One of those is what’s currently known as convergence. Whether you’re an expert in language, car manufacturing, human resources, telecoms or education, you’ll know that areas that were previously well separated are increasingly merging.

This is particularly interesting when it comes to healthcare and technology. Convergence is, of course, just another way of saying the dissolution of borders. In the coming years, we’ll see many exciting examples of this. Examples that will, on a large scale, change the way we look at both healthcare and health technology.

Blurred lines

One of those borders, guaranteed to dissolve, is the sharp distinction between the restoration and the enhancement of human capabilities. Till now, we have had a clear understanding of the difference between those two areas. Companies that develop and sell a prosthetic hand are quite different from those that develop and sell a hydraulic car jack. The same goes, to a large extent, for glasses versus binoculars, hearing implants versus high-performance, long-range microphones and so on. This division is a line drawn for natural, as well as for financial, reasons. Public spending is considered to be acceptable when it comes to restoring a person’s strength, eyesight or hearing but not when it is about enhancing it above what’s generally regarded as normal.

However, in the near future we will see commercial, technological and, not least, mental convergence. For instance, a patient may be happy to put some of her own money towards getting a hearing implant that also communicates with her kitchen utilities. And it will be hard to decide whether the equipment is helping out more with hearing or with cooking. We will keep on creating technology that improves human performance. But whether it restores it to our perception of ‘normal’ or it enhances it to ‘superpower’ levels will be an open issue.

Prosthetic arm
Look beyond the the obvious to see the possibilities. Those who realise this first will get a head start.
© Vladyslav Otsiatsia / iStock / Getty Images

Emerging landscape

This, in turn, will change the commercial and professional landscape. As for producers and developers, there will be brand new opportunities on ‘the other side of the border’. The question is, of course, who will be the first to break the truce? Will the company that delivers the prosthetic hand expand into the market of power tools? Or will Caterpillar eventually shrink its products into something you can use to strengthen a rheumatic wrist? Or will there be an unexpected third party involved? Perhaps Google will conquer both the manufacture of contact lenses and the company that’s sold premium binoculars for years.

No matter what, it’s risky for those who believe you’re either in the restoration or the enhancement business. That division is no longer a sensible way of defining the world – not when the border between ‘human’ and ‘technological’ is slowly dissolving.

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