The Digital Surgeon: How Big Data, Automation, and Artificial Intelligence Will Change Surgical Practice

James Wall, Thomas Krummel

Journal of Pediatric Surgery, Available online 16 November 2019


Exponential growth in computing power, data storage, and sensing technology has led to a world in which we can both capture and analyze incredible amounts of data. The evolution of machine learning has further advanced the ability of computers to develop insights from massive data sets that are beyond the capacity of human analysis. The convergence of computational power, data storage, connectivity, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) has led to health technologies that, to date, have focused on diagnostic areas such as radiology and pathology. The question remains how the digital revolution will translate in the realm of surgery. There are three main areas where the authors believe that AI could impact surgery in the near future: enhancement of training modalities, cognitive enhancement of the surgeon, and procedural automation. While the promise of Big Data, AI, and Automation is high, there have been unanticipated missteps in the use of such technologies that are worth considering as we evaluate how such technologies could/should be adopted in surgical practice. Surgeons must be prepared to adopt smarter training modalities, supervise the learning of machines that can enhance cognitive function, and ultimately oversee autonomous surgery without allowing for a decay in the surgeon’s operating skills.