Doctors use machines all the time while practicing medicine — they use computers to keep medical records in order, laparoscopic cameras to view patients’ guts and centrifuges for blood tests. But what will happen in a future society where the machines become the doctors?

Technology and the development of artificial intelligence are moving closer and closer to robots that can thoroughly serve humans on a daily basis, including in the medical field. With every advancement, however, comes drawbacks. Sure, a robot general practitioner could have pre-loaded in its memory every known illness in the history of Homo sapiens and a robotic surgeon could more precisely cut away dangerous tissue than a human hand — an advancement we have seen over the last several years but one that still requires a human master, the Mayo Clinic notes. But unless the technology is practically perfect in every way, there will be problems.

Does not compute

A medical robot perhaps could listen to a patient rattle off symptoms and then call up information about every related illness in its catalogue, eliminating choices based upon patient history and listing the remainder by order of likelihood. But what happens when a patient cannot properly communicate the problem, due to a lack of understanding of the issue or because he used incorrect terminology? A human doctor may have caught an error, such as a patient using the word “wheezing,” a whistling in the breath which is most commonly associated with asthma, when he really means “gasping,” which could mean shortness of breath like the kind associated with heart issues; or “vertigo” instead of “lightheaded,” which is the difference between the room spinning and feeling faint. Both are subtle but important distinctions. A robot could not do the same without having a complete understanding of how lay people communicate health problems, the intelligence to ask the right questions and the ability to pick up subtle gestures and cues used as two people talk.

Cold hands

This may sound funny, but it’s already uncomfortably chilly when a human doctor touches a nude body part during a physical examination. No matter how realistic a robot physician’s “skin” looks, it’s doubtful the extremities will be even as warm as the cold-handed doctor who has been grabbing your testicles and asking you to cough or feeling your breasts for lumps. On a typical winter day, it may be downright shocking. Even the most advanced humanoid robots, such as S.T.A.R., the first autonomous robot that performs surgery on its own, is made out of metal.

Power to the people

Robots with medical degrees would need electricity to function. But in the event of a massive power outage, the robot’s battery would only last so long, and people don’t stop needing emergency medical treatment just because their doctor has run out of juice. Humans, however, are able to continue serving patients even when a grid goes dark, such as the doctor who used the light of his cell phone to perform medical procedures because his hospital didn’t have electricity, Mexico News Daily reports. A similar scene occurred in India recently, the Daily Mail says, when a power outage forced a hospital to operate largely by candlelight and staffers used both candles and cell phone flashlights to deliver a baby.

Close contact

Having human contact is important, and a lot of people don’t get enough of it. The absence of that contact has been noted in prisoners in solitary confinement, who experience severe mental symptoms like hallucinations, the BBC has reported. There are also physical effects: “Chronically lonely people have higher blood pressure, are more vulnerable to infection, and are also more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” the BBC says. “Loneliness also interferes with a whole range of everyday functioning, such as sleep patterns, attention and logical and verbal reasoning. The mechanisms behind these effects are still unclear, though what is known is that social isolation unleashes an extreme immune response – a cascade of stress hormones and inflammation.” Social isolation has been shown to negatively affect lifespan.

The type of patient who would be most affected by a movement toward robot doctors would be perhaps someone seeing a psychiatrist to be treated for depression, but that’s an extreme example. A more general situation would be someone who is scared to undergo a particular medical procedure. Humans can provide comfort in a way a robot never could, whether it be holding a patient’s hand as they nauseatingly tumble into the unconsciousness of anesthesia before a surgery (a true story that happened to this writer), or knowing what to say when delivering a terminal diagnosis.