Uncommon Senses IV – Beyond the Limits of the Human Hand ™

At Uncommon Senses IV (May 3rd – 6th, 2023), I will present research on the da Vinci Surgical System, a surgical robotic assistant in wide use today, using Intuitive Surgical’s trademarked phrase, “taking surgery beyond the limits of the human hand™, as an invitation to tell a two-part story about the way engineers designed and calibrated the da Vinci to touch and how those designs along with defining the human hand as limited in comparison to the device articulates surgical touch easily extractable for capital gain. In telling this story, I consider how a political economy of the senses plays a role in design decisions, elevating the importance of visual systems over tactile systems, explore the process of extraction necessary to replicate and replace human sensory labor in the operating room, and consider the potential erosion of touch culture as it relates to surgical practice. In the end, the story is guided by questions about what it means to get beyond the limits of the human hand, who decides those limits and for what purposes, and how those material and symbolic articulations impact our notion of what touch means and how it matters in the operating room and beyond. 

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