“Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” — Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation
For those of you who are not familiar with the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard was the commander of a star ship called Enterprise about 400 years in the future. The above quote was among his signature lines, where he is instructing the ship’s computer to use a Replicator to create for him a hot mug of Earl Grey tea.
For our purposes here, the point is that the machines 400 years hence can be controlled using ordinary human language. There are no apps to learn, settings to navigate. One does not need to conform one’s thinking and behavior to the strictures of a computer program to get done what one wants to get done.
Star Trek envisions a utopic, humanistic future, where all of the core problems of humanity have been solved– hunger and poverty, disease, and injustice, thus freeing human beings to pursue exploration of self, soul, and cosmos nearly without limit. Even the machines have been humanized, insofar as they can be controlled with ordinary human language, and there are androids who are learning how to feel.
For much of human history, our tools were fairly simple– many could be made by the people who used them. Over time, of course, our machines– and our world– became much more complex, requiring considerable expertise and resources to manufacture and distribute the tools we could make. With the advent of the computer age, few people understand how their tools work, and often struggle to understand how even to use them. How many of us have cursed our computer or smartphone or sound system or car because we could not get them to work right, or could not figure out how to do the simplest thing?
The tide seems to be turning. We are not yet in the realm of Star Trek, but over the last decade, our capacity to imbue computers with the capacity to understand language has made enormous strides. How many of us now speak or type what we want our devices to do, and it just does it? There is less struggling with menus and settings, more focus on what we want to get done. Still, there are plenty of limits, and often these devices fail to understand us, or make errors that can be downright comical.
Mpathy Software was founded with a core vision to advance the capacity of software to understand human language in the context of medical practice. Practicing medicine is, as the author well knows from his decade of experience, challenging enough without struggling with the modern software required to document and manage the process. He, like many of his colleagues, finds Electronic Health Record systems too often part of the problem rather than the solution. So, he decided to do something about it.
For any of you having similar struggles, we invite you to join our effort. Please sign up for newsletters which will detail our progress, offer information about industry, and to get links to live demos of existing system capabilities.
Someday soon, managing your practice might be as easy as it is for Captain Picard to order up a cup of tea.