Like all everyday miracles of technology, the longer you watch a robot perform surgery on a human being, the more it begins to look like an inevitable natural wonder. Earlier this month I was in an operating theatre at University College Hospital in central London watching a 59-year-old man from Potters Bar having his cancerous prostate gland removed by the four dexterous metal arms of an American-made machine, in what is likely a glimpse of the future of most surgical procedures. The robot was being controlled by Greg Shaw, a consultant urologist and surgeon sitting in the far corner of the room with his head under the black hood of a 3D monitor, like a Victorian wedding photographer. Shaw was directing the arms of the remote surgical tool with a fluid mixture of joystick control and foot-pedal pressure and amplified instruction to his theatre team standing at the patient's side. The surgeon, 43, has performed a thousand of such procedures, which are particularly useful for pelvic operations; those, he says, in which you are otherwise "looking down a deep, dark hole with a flashlight".