Electives Catalogue Years 1 & 2: Technology and the Future of Medicine

Department: Laboratory Medicine

Technology and the Future of Medicine (LABMP590) www.singularitycourse.com

Location: ECHA 1-420 2-3:30 pm on selected Tuesdays and Thursdays January 5 to April 8 (Winter Term) or September 2 to December 9 (Fall Term)

12 hours (after first 4 lectures students follow their own interests, attend selectively.  (Med students are not required to take midterm or do the final paper or presentation).  All lectures are available in broadcast quality on YouTube Participation can be face to face or by Zoom.


Kim Solez, MD  kim.solez@ualberta.ca  or 780-407-2607


LABMP 590 is a lecture and seminar course describing the future effects of technology on medicine in both the developed and developing world, the promise and perils of biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence, the changing character of research and practice of medicine and pathology in the coming decades, and the technological singularity. The course is self-contained, the basic background for understanding the concepts is taught to the students within the course, so that their varying educational background will not inhibit full participation in the course. Although every lecture fits within the concept of "medicine writ large" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK3LjLP7e2U) the course does not require more than a first year student level of medical knowledge. This interactive seminar discussion course takes an even-handed approach to the influence of technology on the future of medicine, with both technology advocates and technology skeptics presenting. The objective of the course is to provide a balanced idea of the promise and peril of technology in medicine and to instill the idea that we are not passive victims of the future, but with appropriate education can actually help shape the future in positive ways. The course debates both the promise of elimination of disease by technology and the possibility that a host of new diseases will be brought about by technology. It also considers the future influence of technology on the have-nots in the world who have yet to make their first phone call. The technological Singularity and possible "merger" of humans and machines are considered along with the idea that "the future is already here, it is just not uniformly distributed." The course is taught in a highly innovative way by a distinguished group of faculty coming from a variety of different disciplines and backgrounds, representing the best and the brightest from across the campus. The course is heavy on philosophy, ethics, and the description of likely future scenarios. Existential risks and doomsdays scenarios are discussed as well as possible utopian outcomes. The course is broadly conceptual. It discusses nanotechnology, biotechnology, genomics, and artificial intelligence and their impact on medicine now and in the future but is not a course about practical aspects of new laboratory techniques to be used at the research bench.

Course Goals/Aims:
The first two lectures provide an orientation to the basic structure and procedures of the course, and the concepts of the future of medicine, medicine writ large http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sK3LjLP7e2U, and the technological Singularity. The next two lectures use these concepts to explore entrepreneurship in medicine and also provide an interactive bonding experience for the students so they become a cohesive group that works well together. The next eight lectures provide basic instruction on artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and medical ethics of the future, all key elements in the exponential change which medicine will experience over the next few years. The first 6 weeks of the course fill in the basics needed to understand the technology future of medicine, the lectures beyond that then fill in related details in specific areas, quantum biology, the Singularity from the point of view of a surgeon, the question of whether pain and suffering can be eliminated in the future, the technology future as it plays out in resource limited setting in poor countries, the question of whether some of the imagined future is just hype, technology advance and gaming, the promise and perils of biotech - bioterrorism (the one lecture that does not go on YouTube), technology and global citizenship, and writing as a technology.  The PowerPoint slide sets are available through e-Class and as a component of the course videos available on YouTube

Course Outcomes: By the end of this course students should have a clear idea of various scenarios for the future of medicine from utopia to apocalypse and everything in between, and should be able to define exponential change, the technological Singularity, Moore's Law, and the concept of medicine writ large. In addition they should have a good grounding in artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, and medical ethics of the future. They should be comfortable enough with these subjects that they are able to argue the key questions about them from different vantage points and understand widely divergent points of view. A practical positive side effect of the course is that students become comfortable speaking into a microphone during the discussion period and becoming part of the broadcast quality videos.


Course Objectives

  • To prepare students for the medical future. This is not just passive preparation; it should also mean that the successful student plays an active role in the future by shaping the future of medicine in a positive way. Being prepared for the future should have a survival advantage in every way in which one can think of the word "survive", including leading to increased success in whatever area of human endeavor the student attempts in the future.
  • Many of the most important concepts of science and medicine began in philosophy first. Philosophers conceptualized cells before scientists discovered them. In a similar way many of the philosophical conceptual issues discussed in this course are likely to become practical hard science in the future.
See also our 2013 published paper about the course, the related whole class year 1 teaching from 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WY8pdTGjdSc and our medical grand rounds presentation from February 2019 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCWAOpXOYqc
Additional Notes:



Last Updated: October 20, 2021