I, Robot: Chatbots, Robots and AI

In the future, it’s entirely possible a confluence of technologies will become your new doctor. Separately, chatbots, robots and artificial intelligence are impressive technologies. Bring them together and it’s possible to get more than the sum of the parts.

Today, however, we’re not quite there. Certainly, we’re getting closer as advances are made in with these technologies.

Chatbots can already respond to questions much like a human would. But a new version incorporates a very human-like avatar. The chatbot’s new look is important. Using animation expertise to create a human-like appearance, the organization created a more realistic face for the chatbot, which, it’s hoped, will make customers more empathetic and less likely to gripe about poor service. Melding this chatbot avatar with a robot can help anthropomorphize an inherently disembodied and unhuman experience. This combination of computer, animation and empathy will be easier to accomplish in a retail, help-desk setting, rather than in healthcare where we expect more from our robots.


A Chinese university rolled out an experimental robot doctor with a plastic cartoonish face and, unfortunately, a decided lack of reasoning. The robot doesn’t have any discernable bedside manner and operates more as a database than robot: "What it can do most at present is to offer some possible suggestions to doctors, so as to help doctors to find where the problems lie more rapidly, or to avoid some risks," according to its creators.

In addition, while robots have performed surgeries generally requiring more precision than the human hand is capable of mastering, they are still used more for the way the microscopic parts can be controlled by human hands; the robots are not autonomous. Besides lacking any human-like features or “feelings,” a robot doctor has a ways to go before becoming an integral part of the patient care experience.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has the capability to help robots become more than a conglomeration of software and circuit boards squeezed into the approximation of a human-like body. AI can turn the robot-like robot into a machine that learns and is confident in its medical abilities. And, maybe, has empathy.

I, Robot

When these three elements—chatbots, robots and AI—are brought together, there’s a genuine opportunity to build a human-like robotic form capable of displaying compassion, reasoning, making complex decisions and, ultimately, engaging autonomously as a primary care physician or surgeon. It seems only a matter of time before technologists join the features necessary to harness humanness within a non-human shape. It will be exciting to see where and how these robots will be deployed and if it will be cost-effective to do so with a measure of oversight from a human M.D.
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