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A peer-reviewed journal that offers evidence-based clinical information and continuing education for dentists.

Dentistry’s Robotic Future

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal discusses the future of robots and their effect on our culture and economy.

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A recent article in The Wall Street Journal discusses the future of robots and their effect on our culture and economy. The article cites a study from Oxford University predicting that robots will replace nearly half of U.S. workers within the next 20 years. If even remotely accurate, this would lead to significant changes.

There are two very different interpretations of this data. Some believe it will result in people having more free time. Robots can perform a number of mundane tasks, which allows their human counterparts to attend to more important aspects of their lives. For example, my daughter-in-law recently received a robotic vacuum, which resulted in mountains of previously undetected dog hair.

EXPERTS ARE CONCERNED THAT THE INCREASED COMPUTING POWER … MEANS THESE MACHINES WILL SOON BE ABLE TO OUTTHINK US

On a more profound level, robots can improve productivity and cut expenses, thereby potentially reducing the cost of goods. If correctly programmed, they can also reduce human error. One example of machines at work is that some articles from the Associated Press are currently written by robots (which, in this author’s opinion, explains the mediocrity of some of the information found in today’s media).

On the other hand, some experts are concerned that the increased computing power needed for artificial intelligence means these machines will soon be able to outthink us. A classic example in science fiction is Isaac Asimov’s I Robot. In this compilation of short stories, a rogue robot violates one of Asimov’s three laws of robotics: Specifically, that a robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. We have seen a concrete example of this failure when the light detection and ranging device on a Tesla self-driving car apparently failed, resulting in the death of its passenger.

More relevant to dental practitioners is that if new jobs are not created for the displaced individuals, the middle class will continue to feel the economic stress that proved so challenging during the Great Recession. This could dramatically change dental practice, as more individuals are forced to rely on third-party payers for their oral health care. While many aspects of the Affordable Care Act are laudable, losses by insurance companies have forced many to withdraw from the market. Recent data indicate that, as of this year, one in three states will have only a single insurance carrier for these plans. This will create a monopoly that may lead to higher deductibles for patients — and lower fees for dentists. This trend does not bode well for clinicians who wish to practice at the highest possible level without interference from third parties.

It’s the old curse: May you live in interesting times.

Thomas G. Wilson Jr., DDS
Editor in Chief
[email protected]

From Decisions in Dentistry. December 2016;2(12):8.

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