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Forget WebMD. Hello, Robot, M.D.

IBM's 'Watson' computing system. Will there be a day when Dr. Watson beeps around the corner and asks you how you feel?

For all that we like to think that our smartphones and tablets are living, breathing extensions of ourselves, the truth is -- technology is kind of impersonal. And yet, the impersonal is about to get very personal -- as in personal health.

The medical community has begun to grapple with the prospect of more technology in medicine. Imagine IBM's "Jeopardy"-beating "Watson" computer reviewing your case history, then making diagnoses and treatment recommendations.

"I'm not saying that robots will replace your doctor. I'm not even saying they should but that we may get to a point where we are going to see some profound changes," The Atlantic Magazine's Jonathan Cohn says. His cover story in the latest issue of the magazine reports on technology and medicine and the future.

Cohn says at the very least, we'll see "very intelligent computers" and more use of data in medicine and treatment.

There are a lot of ways technology can save us money -- eliminate waste, for example. And it could change the way doctors work, those very expensive doctors. If computers and other new technologies can take over some of the work burden, health care could cost less.

But on the other hand, technology in medicine is easier said than done. Those electronic medical records haven't really panned out. And Cohn calls that a reason to be skeptical. If we can't get EMRs right, the technology built on them won't work either.

So will there be a day when Dr. Watson beeps around the corner and asks you how you feel?

Cohn says he doesn't think the future looks quite  that robotic. Cohn writes more about the technological innovations that could change health care in The Atlantic's cover story, "The Robot Will See You Now."

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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