It’s a decade or so from now, and an artificial voice familiar from your smartphone and self-driving car is asking you to count slowly backwards from one hundred. You’re about to be operated on by the latest Google gadget: an autonomous surgical robot.
That’s the vision Babak Parviz sold to Google in 2010 when he joined the company’s ultra-secretive Google X division, where he was initially recruited to develop the Google Glass wearable computer. Parviz has since moved on to Amazon. But his ideas appear to have taken a big step towards reality with the spinoff of Verb Surgical, a new company formed with medical behemoth Johnson and Johnson, from Alphabet’s life sciences research division Verily. While few details are public, Verb announced this week that it “aims to develop a comprehensive surgical solutions platform that will incorporate leading-edge robotic capabilities and best-in-class medical device technology for operating room professionals.”
Google famously keeps a tight lid on its researchers, but Babak broke silence for the first time with Backchannel earlier this year, in a wide-ranging conversation in which he explained his ideas for bringing robots into the operating room, among other things.
“I founded the robot surgery program at Google,” he told Backchannel. “We rely on the dexterity of human surgeons but now we know machines are quite a bit more precise than humans. If you want to do things with extreme precision, a machine would be better.”