LABMP 590: Technology and the Future of Medicine

CCIS L1-140, T R 2:00 - 3:20 pm

Click here for the PDF Version of the Course Outline


University of Alberta, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology Fall 2014

LABMP 590: Technology and the Future of Medicine (course weight: 3) Tuesday, Thursday, H 2:00pm – 3:20pm Classroom: CCIS L1-140

Instructor: Kim Solez, M.D. Office: 5B4.02 WCM HSC. Phone: 407-2607 Cell: 710-1644 E-mail: Office Hours: By Appointment,

Directions to office:

Course Description

General Description:

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. Each student will carry out a project supervised by a faculty member and give a presentation. This course is designed for graduate students in the Faculties of Medicine and Dentistry, Science, or Arts, and is open to undergraduates in those Faculties with consent of Department. 

While designed for graduate students, the course may also be taken by science or arts undergraduates with permission of the instructor, and it may also be used for continuous professional learning by faculty and staff. 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” a medical background is not required to take the course.

This interactive seminar discussion course for graduate students in the sciences, medicine, and the arts 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 ways in which technology has already changed pathology, medicine and medical research will be covered, as well as the likely changes in medicine over the next decades.  Existential risks and likely medical advances in the areas of biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence will be considered. 

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. All lectures and discussion in the course are captured in broadcast quality video . The course is heavy on philosophy, ethics, and the description of likely future scenarios. Existential risks and doomsday 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 it is not a course about practical aspects of new laboratory techniques to be used at the research bench.

Course Format

Each 90-minute class period on Tuesdays and Thursdays will be divided up into 60-minute lecture, and 20-minute whole class discussion. Each student will take on a special project of their own with guidance by the faculty and present the results of that special project in the latter portion of the course.  To avoid consuming regular class time with student presentations, the presentations are mostly given in special student presentation evenings scheduled at a time convenient for the students and mixed with food, entertainment, and social events. One such evening is scheduled approximately midway in the semester so students who wish can give their presentation early.

Course Evaluation and Deadlines

Students will be evaluated on their presentation on their chosen project in the course (30%) (live or as video), a paper on that project (40%), a critique and analysis of strengths and weaknesses of a previous lecture in the course (20%) and class participation (10%).  The critique is due October 15th and should be 2-3 pages in length (600-1000 words). Students should pick a mentor and a final paper topic by November 12th and inform Dr. Solez at . The paper is due November 26th and should be 3,000 to 4,000 words excluding references (10-13 pages). The final paper and presentation must be on a subject directly related to one of the main themes of the course such as exponential change, the technological Singularity, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genomics, replacement of human labor by machines, existential risk, and medical ethics of the future.
 A topic that is simply technology and medicine, and does not have futuristic orientation, does not meet course requirements.

To accommodate shy students, participation on online forums related to the course can also count toward the class participation grade, and during class the students also have the option of texting their questions to Dr. Solez and having him ask them out loud without revealing the identity of the questioner. The texting should be conducted over University WiFi with phones on Airplane mode and not using a cellular connection. Cellular connections are poor in the lecture hall CCIS L1-140 and cell phones can produce interference that interferes with the audio tract of the video recording.

Here are some quotes providing a taste of some of the ideas covered in the course:  

1) The last invention that man need ever make ….
“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an “intelligence explosion”, and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.” I. J. Good “Speculations Concerning the First Ultraintelligent Machine” 1965.

2) A cure for all known diseases ….
“One might think that the singularity would be of great interest to academic philosophers, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers. In practice, this has not been the case. Good was an eminent academic, but his article was largely unappreciated at the time. The subsequent discussion of the singularity has largely taken place in nonacademic circles, including Internet forums, popular media and books, and workshops organized by the independent Singularity Institute. Perhaps the highly speculative flavor of the singularity idea has been responsible for academic resistance. I think this resistance is a shame, as the singularity idea is clearly an important one. The argument for a singularity is one that we should take seriously. And the questions surrounding the singularity are of enormous practical and philosophical concern. Practically: If there is a singularity, it will be one of the most important events in the history of the planet. An intelligence explosion has enormous potential benefits: a cure for all known diseases, an end to poverty, extraordinary scientific advances, and much more. It also has enormous potential dangers: an end to the human race, an arms race of warring machines, the power to destroy the planet. So if there is even a small chance that there will be a singularity, we would do well to think about what forms it might take and whether there is anything we can do to influence the outcomes in a positive direction.”
From David J. Chalmers The Singularity: A Philosophical Analysis
Journal of Consciousness Studies 17:7-65, 2010.

The course is also approved by the Royal College of Physician and Surgeons as a self accredited round. Participants can claim the hours they attend under Section 1 accredited rounds in the Royal College's MOC program.

Subjects of the course include those listed below which can be accessed as videos from past lectures at :

     Global Citizenship and Technology  

     Entrepreneurship in Medicine/Innovation

     Reflections on Singularity University 

     Evil As A Treatable Disease

     Promise and Perils of AI 

     Writing as a Technology in Medicine and Science  

     Promise and Perils of Nanotech  

     New Tools and Discoveries in Science

     Genomics and The Future of Medicine

     The Singularity and The Have Nots        

     Ethics After The Robots Take Over    

     The Technologic Singularity Explained&Promoted! 

     Complementary medicine/healing (Consumer practices and the example of Canadian First Nations medicine)  

     The Future of Pathology (What will pathology practice be like in 2020) 

     A Biological Repairman's Reflections on the Coming Singularity: Notions of Embodiment in the Age of Spiritual Machine

     Second Life and Medical Education  

     Neuroscience/Universal Consciousness


Most presentations about the future of medicine actually deal with “futuristic developments” in the present. There is a distinct advantage to studying true future scenarios with sufficient balance and inclusiveness that some of the scenarios presented will actually occur in the mainstream future experienced by most people.

Medicine is not just about disease. It is also and will increasingly be about human enhancement, including moral and spiritual enhancement as well as physical, and about changes in society that promote health and well being. This larger concept of medicine we have referred to as “medicine writ large”.

These ideas are not new. Rudolf Virchow, the Father of Cellular Pathology, wrote about the social responsibility of medicine and about “medicine writ large” 165 years ago:

“It is the curse of humanity that it learns to tolerate even the most horrible situations by habituation. Physicians are the natural attorneys of the poor, and the social problems should largely be solved by them.”

“Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else than medicine writ large. Medicine as a social science, as the science of human beings, has the obligations to point out problems and to attempt their theoretical solution: the politician, the practical anthropologist, must find the means for their practical solution. ”

As these quotes indicate, there is much for physicians and other health care professionals to do even if all diseases are eliminated. We discuss these issues in the course, and their logical consequences:

1) Our teaching of medical students must change to reflect this larger concept of medicine.

2) To be worthy of this larger mandate medicine must be an overarching force for good. It cannot be just one self-interested financial silo competing with other self-interested financial silos.



Course Objectives:

1. To prepare students for the medical future considered broadly. 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.

2. 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.

Course Outcomes:

     To be able to accurately predict likely scenarios for medicine of the future, including the impacts of artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, genomics, biotechnology, exponential change, and the technological singularity.

     To understand the concept of “medicine writ large” and the muted effect of Moore’s Law within medicine.

     To appreciate the value of diverse viewpoints from both technology skeptics and advocates.

     To debate relevant issues in class discussion and/or online and come to a useful and practical personal understanding of where the future is going.


Reading Material

There is no required reading in the course. On the other hand it is expected that the students will do substantial reading in areas of interest to them related to their final paper and presentation. A selection of the recommended readings below may provide a useful starting point in this reading.

Texts: Recommended

The two books used most in the course will be Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near (2005, read selectively) and Simon Baron-Cohen’s Zero Degrees of Empathy (2011). Ray Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed (2012) is also a useful resource as is Peter Diamandis’s book Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think (2012).

Journal Articles: Recommended (Special issue Sept. 2010 "The End, or Maybe Not!") The articles listed below are from this special issue:

Eternal Fascinations with the End: Why We're Suckers for Stories of Our Own Demise

Our pattern-seeking brains and desire to be special help explain our fears of the apocalypse

Michael Moyer | September 1, 2010 | 44 Why Can't We Live Forever?

As we grow old, our own cells begin to betray us. By unraveling the

mysteries of aging, scientists may be able to make our lives longer and


Thomas Kirkwood | September 1, 2010 | 29

Last of Their Kind: What Is Lost When Cultures Die?

The world's cultures have been disappearing, taking valuable knowledge with them, but there is reason to hope

Wade Davis | September 1, 2010 | 15

Laying Odds on the Apocalypse: Experts Assess Doomsday

Could modern civilization really come to an end? Experts take stock of eight doomsday scenarios

John Matson and John Pavlus | September 1, 2010 | 6

The Paradox of Time: Why It Can't Stop, But Must

For time to end seems both impossible and inevitable. Recent work in physics suggests a resolution to the paradox

George Musser | September 1, 2010 | 74

What Comes Next: Experts Predict the Future The flip side to every ending is a new beginning. We asked the visionary scientists on our advisory board what new trends will shape the decades to come




Philosophy Readings: Recommended


Nick Bostrom: Existential Risks

Robin Hanson: The Great Filter

Max More: (proactionary principle)

Eliezer Yudkowsky: Friendly Artificial Intelligence >

Eric Drexler: Dialogue on Dangers:

The War on Aging: Aubrey de Grey in pp. 29-46

Human Body Version 2.0: Ray Kurzweil pp. 93-106

Superlongevity Without Overpopulation: Max More pp. 169-185


Facebook Group The Facebook page for the course.




Grading in General:

Grades will reflect the degree to which written and in-class activities exemplify work that is organized, rigorous, and critically analytical. Course products must also demonstrate an ability to integrate theory and practice, and to understand the main themes of the course.

Written assignments must use APA (American Psychological Association) style. It is important to reference sources accurately. The effort to use an appropriate academic style helps structure and present academic work in a clear and accurate manner. Moreover, it respectfully acknowledges the contributions of author-researchers whom you have used to strengthen your presentation and arguments.

You can access information about the APA Style Manual and associated guides by using this WEB site:

Evaluation Criteria:

Course participants will have the opportunity to demonstrate their understandings of the main course themes through the written assignments, presentations, and class discussions. Checklists follow on the next two pages


For the final paper due November 26th the following checklist will be used for evaluation:                                                                       Points out of 100

1. Title accurately reflects your research topic.                                              /5

2. The topic is appropriate to course themes and shows understanding of those themes.                                /15

3. The topic is clearly defined in a manner that would be clearly understood by a general audience.                /15

4. The paper is well organized.                                                                      /15

5. General background is provided to give context.                                       /10

6. Opinions are put forward which are innovative and well argued.               /25

7. References are cited next to appropriate text and provided in a reference list.       /10

8. The paper is reasonably free of errors in spelling, grammar, formatting problems, and typos.                         /5

 For the lecture critique assignment due October 15th the following checklist will be used for evaluation:   Points out of 100

1. The critique is insightful and shows understanding of course themes.                  /25

2. The main points of the critique are clearly defined in a manner that would be easily understood by a general audience.                                /25

3. The critique paper is well organized.                                                                      /10

4. The critique is balanced and constructive and contains suggestions likely to improve the course.                                    /10

5. Opinions are put forward which are innovative and well argued.                          /25

6. The critique paper is reasonably free of errors in spelling, grammar, formatting problems, and typos.                              /5



For the student presentation the following checklist will be used for evaluation:    Points out of 100

1. The presentation is insightful and shows good understanding of course themes.                                                                  /25

2. The presentation is well presented, easily understood, and enjoyable to listen to                                                                  /25

3. The presentation is well organized and makes good use of visual aids and/or video.                                                           /10

4. Opinions are put forward which are innovative and well argued.                                                                                               / 25

5. Image sources are provided for the images used in the oral presentation linked to copies of the images.                          /10

6. The presentation slides are reasonably free of errors in spelling, grammar, formatting problems, and typos.                      /5

To accommodate the possibility of shy students taking the course, the option is available to all students of preparing a 20-minute video of their presentation with videographer Angus Findlay and presenting that to the course rather than a live presentation. Such a video presentation would be graded the same as a live presentation, and there still would be a live 10 minute question period.  Many students consider the live presentation in the course to be a very valuable experience, and we continue to believe that from the student’s point of view the live presentation gives the optimum experience for the student.


Example Student Presentations: Example student presentation videos can be found at:

Example written papers are available upon request.

To accommodate shy students, participation on online forums related to the course can also count toward the class participation grade, and during class the students also have the option of texting their questions to Dr. Solez and having him ask them out loud without revealing the identity of the questioner. The texting should be conducted over University WiFi with phones on Airplane mode and not using a cellular connection. Cellular connections are poor in the lecture hall CCIS L1-140 and cell phones can produce interference that interferes with the audio tract of the video recording.

General Policies

Audio or video recording of lectures, labs, seminars or any other teaching environment by students is allowed only with the prior written consent of the instructor or as a part of an approved accommodation plan. Recorded material is to be used solely for personal study, and is not to be used or distributed for any other purpose without prior written consent from the instructor.

Policy about course outlines can be found in Section 23.4(2) of the University Calendar.

The University of Alberta is committed to the highest standards of academic integrity and honesty. Students are expected to be familiar with these standards regarding academic honesty and to uphold the policies of the University in this respect. Students are particularly urged to familiarize themselves with the provisions of the Code of Student Behaviour (on line at and avoid any behavior which could potentially result in suspicions of cheating, plagiarism, misrepresentation of facts and/or participation in an offence. Academic dishonest is a serious offence and can result in suspension or expulsion from the University. (GFC 29 SEP 2003)






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For further information:

 Preeti Kuttikat          or            Kim Solez, M.D.

780-407-8385                      780-710-1644







Last Modified: Monday August 18, 2014 12:54:41 PM