THE relevance to hearing confessions was surely clear to all watching Diagnosis on Demand? The Computer Will See You Now (BBC2, Thursday of last week). Dr Hannah Fry explored revolutionary applications of artificial intelligence (AI) to health care, where corporate giants are investing vast sums of money.
It works via your mobile phone: you describe your aches and pains against a series of more and more focused questions; if the problem is intractable or acute, then a real doctor sees you, typically within ten minutes — via video.
Because the initial questioning is made by computer algorithm, it is much cheaper and faster than hanging around in your doctor’s waiting-room, and claims to beat the accuracy of flesh-and-blood consultation. How could anyone object? Fry was full of enthusiasm — and then began to express doubts.
For all their evangelistic zeal — and the personnel of Babylon Health, one such London-based company that, atypically, took part in the programme, are truly convincing in their eagerness to help the sick — a certain scepticism must attach to any big business venture.
They are there because, of course, vast sums of money can be made. In the NHS, cash goes with each patient to the GP of his or her choice. If you choose Babylon, they get the money; so your local surgery doesn’t.
The trial that was carried out was attempting to show how benign this new system was, but it raised more questions than it answered. It is the young, determined, and tech-savvy who are signing up in droves; and, of course, they are the healthiest people around.
Technophobic, elderly, confused patients who have multiple and persistent problems have not even heard of it. So resources are being drained from the very surgeries that need them most.
The parallel with church life is striking: you can set up a ministry aimed at all the lively young things, or you can faithfully pray the Daily Office with all who turn up, many of whose pastoral needs require a lifetime of care and love. Don’t junk the confessional just yet.
The Eve of All Saints attracted its usual crop of programmes celebrating not the holiness of the martyrs, but seeking, rather, to scare us witless. Inside No 9 Live Special (BBC2, Sunday) was the most sophisticated. This horror comedy about a mobile phone found in a churchyard, ending with the hapless Vicar’s severed head in the microwave, was hijacked by malevolent forces that took over the studio and radio waves themselves.
Long stretches of interruption — of horrific images from rogue programmes’ suddenly taking over the screen, and a back story of the studio built over a graveyard and the unquiet dead infecting the very cables and cameras — made a complex mix. It wasn’t entirely successful, but it did undermine our usual acceptance of an artificial medium as “real”.