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4 April 2023

Will AI replace Surgeons?

The rapid, recent expansion of Artificial Intelligence (AI), with the unveiling of powerful large language models like ChatGPT, and the prospect of highly advanced humanoid robots being powered by AI, has sparked legitimate concerns over which professions might be affected by such advancements, or even outmoded.

While many jobs are under legitimate threat, others are more resistant to displacement by AI. For surgeons, the reality is more nuanced, as their profession is likely to see significant changes, but as this article will argue, is far from being at risk. If anything, it will benefit.

Technology in Surgery

Unlike some other professions, the medical field has historically embraced advancements in technology, and surgeons in particular have long used advanced tools to enhance their skills.

Despite some notable recent setbacks, AI and robotics is already making its mark in the operating room, but rather than replacing surgeons, it is helping to augment their skills and expand their capabilities.

Robotic-assisted surgery systems such as the da Vinci Surgical System are already in use, and have been for two decades. These systems are controlled by surgeons, who use them to perform minimally invasive procedures, with increased precision, shorter recovery times, and fewer complications. But it is important to note that the surgeon is always in control, with the robotic system acting as an extension of their skills.

Several other AI-based technologies are in use or currently being trialed:

  • Google Health - Google has several AI health projects, including Med-PaLM - a large language model project trained on medical data; using AI to interpret medical imagery; an app to identify skin conditions; using AI to identify eye diseases; and using AI to plan radiotherapy treatment by assisting with contouring. More details at Google Health.

  • Johnson & Johnson - The company continues to develop its Ottava soft tissue robot despite recent layoffs, its Monarch platform for bronchoscopy and urology, and Velys for robotic-assisted knee surgery.

  • Aidoc - Aidoc's AI-driven radiology software can identify abnormalities in medical images, such as CT scans and MRIs, and assist with prioritization. This can help surgeons in planning surgeries, monitoring the progression of diseases, and determining the most effective course of treatment. In general the company is developing various solutions for AI powered healthcare workflows.

  • Nanox AI - The Israeli company's AI-powered imaging analytics platform can analyze medical imaging data to identify a variety of medical conditions, including tumors, liver diseases, and cardiovascular issues. By providing accurate and rapid insights, the system can assist surgeons in the diagnostic process, surgical planning, and treatment decision-making.

  • Other major industry names like GE Healthcare, Medtronic and Philips are all actively developing, or already offer, AI-based solutions for healthcare. The field is fast moving with acquisitions nearly every week.

  • Not to be outdone, Intuitive, the grand daddies of surgical robotics, have launched a venture financing arm to back companies like KelaHealth who are developing AI-based predictive insights and intervention solutions, and see a future with AI for improving basic surgical needs such as stapling and much more.

Future advancements in surgery via AI

AI has the potential to become a valuable tool in the surgeon's arsenal. Machine learning algorithms and large language models can be used to analyze massive amounts of medical data, helping surgeons make better decisions and reduce the risk of human error.

Moreover, AI-powered surgical planning systems are beginning to emerge, enabling surgeons to plan their operations with greater accuracy and detail. By combining AI with advanced imaging techniques, surgeons can develop detailed 3D models of patients' anatomy, allowing for more precise, personalized surgical plans. AI can also assist with many administrative tasks, freeing up more time for surgeons to spend on what they do best.

The Unmatched Human Touch

While AI and advanced AI powered robotics will undoubtedly play a growing role in surgery, the idea of fully replacing human surgeons is remote. The practice of surgery requires a delicate balance of technical expertise, years of study, many years of practical experience, and a nuanced understanding of the human body that cannot be easily replicated by machines.

Surgeons must also possess excellent hand-eye coordination and dexterity, as well as the ability to adapt and think on their feet, when unexpected situations arise during surgery. AI, for all its processing power, still lacks the creativity and intuition to make critical decisions in the face of unforeseen complications.

An important aspect of the surgeon's job is their interaction with patients. The human connection and trust that patients place in their surgeons are crucial for their mental and emotional well-being during the difficult process of undergoing surgery. AI, no matter how advanced, cannot replace the empathy and reassurance that a human surgeon provides.


The future of surgery is more likely to be a collaborative endeavor between humans and AI, rather than an outright replacement of surgeons by machines. AI has the potential to serve as an invaluable support system, guiding and informing surgeons' decisions, and improving overall patient outcomes.

In some cases, AI-powered systems may be able to perform certain routine tasks or portions of procedures, freeing up surgeons to focus on more critical aspects of the operation. The balance of responsibilities between human surgeons and AI will continue to evolve, but the human touch, and critical oversight, will always be a fundamental part of the surgical process.

Public Trust

In the end, public trust will play a significant role in determining the future of AI in surgery. Patients need to feel comfortable and confident in the knowledge that their well-being is in good hands – quite literally. The idea of entrusting one's life to a machine may be too much for some patients to accept, ensuring that human surgeons will continue to be a vital part of the process.


The surgeon's job, while impacted by AI, is far from under threat. AI will become an integral part of the surgeon's toolbox, but the unique skills, experience, and human touch that surgeons possess cannot be easily replicated. As AI evolves, we are more likely to see a partnership between human surgeons and AI, enhancing the capabilities of surgeons rather than replacing them outright.

In the face of technological advancements, the role of surgeons will likely shift and adapt, with AI taking on some routine tasks while the human surgeon focuses on more complex and critical aspects of surgery. The key to a successful future for surgery lies in striking the right balance between embracing AI's potential, and retaining the irreplaceable qualities that human surgeons bring to the table.

For now, surgeons can rest assured that their profession will continue to be a vital part of the healthcare landscape for the foreseeable future. However, it's wise for surgeons to remain adaptable, embracing new AI technologies, and incorporating them into their practice to enhance patient care and improve surgical outcomes. As with any profession in the age of AI, the ability to evolve and grow with technology will be key to success.

With a collaborative approach, the potential for even better patient care and improved surgical outcomes is within reach, but AI will enhance, not replace, the invaluable human touch.

Conclusion: Very Safe | Time Period: Foreseeable Future

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