What if you walked into a surgical theater and saw that your doctor bore more resemblance to a Rumba vacuum than a human surgeon?

That possibility might not be as far off as you may think. Earlier this week, an unmanned robot successfully performed surgery on a pig—and that's just the beginning, said medical ethicist Arthur Caplan.

"We've got a lot of automated things happening in medicine. We're starting to make body parts with plastic print-out machinery," he said. "I think, in certain areas of surgery, the future absolutely is robotic."

In some cases, he said, robots can even perform better than highly-trained surgeons because of their steadiness and precision.

"You don't want someone with a tremor in the hand—not because they're sick or old, but because we all have a little bit of vibration and a robot could probably do better," he said.

But robots aren't likely to replace all surgeries, especially ones that may vary greatly from person-to-person.

"Surgeons always tell me you have to make snap judgements because everyone is literally different when you open them up and see what's going on in there," Caplan said. "But for certain standardized things I think the robot is coming. I really do."

He points toward surgeries like implanting a defibrillator or replacing a hip as ones particularly likely to be mechanized, because the anatomical differences from individual to individual are not as great. Some surgeries, like prostate surgeries, already utilize robots

But far from removing the risk of error completely, robotic surgeries may actually push professionals to rethink the whole idea of risk and malpractice itself, said Caplan—especially when it's time to hold someone accountable for mistakes.

"Do you sue the robot operator? The remote operator? The robot manufacturer?" he asked. 

To hear more from Art Caplan, tune in to Boston Public Radio above.