The 'Internet Of Touch' For Telemedicine

Science fiction writers have long imagined telemedicine, but doing it over the Internet will require a lot of work on new standards.

If a network drops a packet or experiences a latency hiccup, most of the current crop of consequences are bearable: a video stutter, res-downgrade or buffer-swirl on Netflix; ‘some text missing’ in a standard SMS message; or an undeserved frag in a multiplayer shoot-out.

In the realms of remote surgery, events of this nature really can signal ‘game over’, particularly if an anomalous – rather than dropped – packet quite literally sends the wrong signal momentarily to a robot that’s performing a millimetre-critical telesurgical procedure. Data glitches during cybernetic coitus are likely to be less injurious, but to just as emphatically kill the mood; and at the very least, poor latency in biofeedback is likely to cause the same kind of ‘cyber-sickness’ that gamers can experience when the ‘equal and opposite’ reaction they were expecting wipes its feet at the door.

A group of researchers from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) are considering [PDF] these and other impediments to the development of the ‘haptic internet’, a touch/pressure-based iteration of the internet which, they believe, will ‘revolutionise almost every segment of society’ – if a massive leap of network quality can be achieved.

To this end the researchers propose changes both in the way that haptic information is transmitted and received, and in exploiting the multiplexing capabilities of 5G to bring near-‘real-time’ feedback without the high overhead of a TCP approach or the unreliability of a system based on User Datagram Protocol (UDP).

As far as I know, the first telemedicine reference in science fiction dates from 1909, in EM Forster's amazing The Machine Stops:

"Kuno," she said, "I cannot come to see you. I am not well."

Immediately an enormous apparatus fell on to her out of the ceiling, a thermometer was automatically laid upon her heart. She lay powerless. Cool pads soothed her forehead. Kuno had telegraphed to her doctor.

So the human passions still blundered up and down in the Machine. Vashti drank the medicine that the doctor projected into her mouth, and the machinery retired into the ceiling.
(Read more about Forster's telemedicine apparatus)

Telemedicine also played a role in the excellent 1999 science fiction novel Starfish by Peter Watts. The primary action in the novel takes place near a deep undersea rift; as with astronauts, it is very time-consuming and expensive process to retrieve workers from these depths. So, the author posits the use of a medical mantis:

There's this praying mantis a meter long, all black with chrome trim, hanging upside down from the ceiling of the Medical cubby. ..it hovers over his face, jointed arms clicking and dipping like crazy articulated chopsticks...

The mantis stops in midmotion, its antennae quivering... "Hello, er-Gerry, isn't it?" it says at last. "I'm Dr. Troyka." (Read more.)

Via The Stack.

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