Not a week after getting my book Grumby up for sale on Amazon, Steve Lohr and John Markoff write a front page article for the New York Times with an almost, but not quite, real world example of a Grumby in action.
Here is the Microsoft medical assistant:
“Hi, thanks for coming,” the medical assistant says, greeting a mother with her 5-year-old son. “Are you here for your child or yourself?”
The boy, the mother replies. He has diarrhea.
“Oh no, sorry to hear that,” she says, looking down at the boy.
The assistant asks the mother about other symptoms, including fever (“slight”) and abdominal pain (“He hasn’t been complaining”).
She turns again to the boy. “Has your tummy been hurting?” Yes, he replies.
After a few more questions, the assistant declares herself “not that concerned at this point.” She schedules an appointment with a doctor in a couple of days. The mother leads her son from the room, holding his hand. But he keeps looking back at the assistant, fascinated, as if reluctant to leave.
Maybe that is because the assistant is the disembodied likeness of a
woman’s face on a computer screen — a no-frills avatar. Her words of
sympathy are jerky, flat and mechanical. But she has the right stuff —
the ability to understand speech, recognize pediatric conditions and
reason according to simple rules — to make an initial diagnosis of a
childhood ailment and its seriousness. And to win the trust of a little
And here is a very short scene from Grumby:
I’m sitting in a somewhat stark room at Stanford Hospital. Lots of equipment is attached to the wall and on carts in the room. I’m talking to my friend Mark, who has been hounding me for more Grumbys to play with. What a doctor wants with all that technology, I have no idea. Don’t they just bang your knee with a rubber hammer? Mark explains that he got a pile of money from Cisco, the networking company that has had an effort to create doctorless clinics over the last five years with not much traction until Mark suggested a Grumby.
“Hey, it looks just like Meredith Grey…Grey’s Anatomy, right? The TV show?” I ask. It’s a stunning replica, cat like eyes, medium length brownish hair, everything, down to the funny smirk.
“We argued back and forth whether to use her or
some old TV doctor, Dr. Kildare or something, but it became clear that no one
over about 35 would use this thing, so we went young.”
“Can I try it?” I ask. “Sure. It’s an early model, but ought to work pretty well. Just say hello and introduce yourself.”
I look Meredith Grumby in the eye and say “Hello.”
And in Meredith Grey’s voice, the Grumby says, “Well, it’s about time you show up. We don’t have any information on you. Let’s get going.”
“Good. Now strip down to your skivvies.”
“Um,” I look at Mark, “is this part of the program?”
“I’m a doctor. Grow up.” Meredith scolds me.
“OK. OK.” I strip quickly.
Mark laughs and whispers, “It’s a power thing.”
“Wow, is that a roll of quarters or are you just…OK, I’m kidding. But I do need some personal information.”
She asks, I provide.
“OK, great, beats filling out forms, doesn’t it? Now grab that blood pressure device and wrap it around your upper arm.”
Mark whispers to me, “Grab the stethoscope instead, just for fun.”
I grab a stethoscope attached to a wire coming from the wall and put it up to my heart.
“That’s not the blood pressure monitor. You need to watch a little more TV. It’s that one over there, labeled blood pressure. Jeez, another Einstein,” Meredith berates.
“A little high. Looks like we’ll be sucking out some of your blood in a moment. Meanwhile…stick that cone looking thing in your ear, will ya?” she says with a chuckle.
Over the next few minutes, I use the stethescope, a tongue depressor with a little mini-camera attached to it, I get weighed, my height read, all seemingly entered into a database.
“A little overweight there, aren’t you fella? Lay off the cheese doodles or I’ll get you on some unbearable no beer or martinis diet. That won’t be fun.”
“Well, I missed a couple of weeks of basketball and…”
“Yeah, whatever. OK, now bend over, grab your ankles and say yee-ha.”