Medgadget has returned to Singularity University’s FutureMed program, one of our favorite events each year. We’ll be learning from and speaking to a “Who’s Who” of medical innovation luminaries, ranging from Intuitive Surgical’s Chief Medical Officer Catherine Mohr to prolific investor and Sun Microsystems co-founder Vinod Khosla. The packed schedule runs from Monday, February 4th to Saturday, February 9th and will cover some of the most exciting topics in medicine: data-driven health, personalized medicine, the future of interventions, novel design interfaces, regenerative medicine, neurotechnology, and the future of medical practice. Needless to say we’ll be bringing you comprehensive daily coverage so that you’ll feel a bit as though you’re here with us!
The first day of FutureMed began with orientation and team-building activities that allowed each of the ~80 participants – many of whom are as impressive as the speakers – to become acquainted with each other. During the dinner event outside of Singularity University’s Classroom 583C at NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley we met a number of them, including practicing clinicians and healthcare administrators, founders of med tech start-ups and leaders at established firms such as Novartis and Genentech, and private investors as well as partners at venture capital firms.
Following the dinner the participants filed in to hear two impressive keynote speakers provide their insights into the future of medicine. The first, Dr. Peter Diamandis, is known for his roles as founder and chairman of the X Prize as well as co-founder of Singularity University. The title of his talk was “Goodbye Linear Thinking: Hello Abundance,” mirroring the theme of his popular TED2012 talk and recent NYT bestselling book, Abundance (by the way, each of the participants received a copy of his book as well as Ray Kurzweil’s book How to Create a Mind.) Diamandis began by discussing how the human mind evolved to be both “local and linear” – local in that until recently humans spent their provincial lives only being influenced by those in their immediate vicinity, and linear in that we have trouble fathoming exponential trends. As an example, he said, consider where you’ll be if you take 30 linear steps in any direction – easy right? Now, try imagining how far you’d get with 30 exponential steps (2^30). Most would not realize that this would allow you to circumambulate the world 26 times! Linear thinking, he argued, was responsible for the demise of many great companies such as Kodak, which in 1996 had a market capitalization of $28 billion and 140,000 employees but, because they did not realize the disruptive potential of the digital camera technology that they developed, now are down to $100 million and 17,000 employees.
The issue is that while our minds are still stuck in linear thinking, technology is growing exponentially, thus leading to a growing gap between what society believes to be possible and what technology is actually making possible. (As an aside, Diamandis discussed that this problem is compounded by the fact that the media churn out negative news to you wherever you are, in effect transforming your natural fear response from your amygdala into advertising revenue.) Diamandis then went on to provide a framework of 6 “Ds” that can be used to think about exponential growth processes in technology:
- Deceptive – early stages of exponential growth processes may be deceptively linear
- Disruptive – once exponential growth reaches the inflection point, or “knee of the curve,” they become truly disruptive
- Digitized – more information is becoming digitized, opening the door for a layer of analytics (e.g. machine learning) to be placed on top of it
- Dematerialized – no longer do you have to buy a flashlight or digital camera, you can simply purchase an app on your phone to accomplish these tasks
- Demonetized – as manufacturing techniques improve, technologies are becoming less expensive at an alarming pace
- Democratized – there will be 3 billion more people on the Internet by 2020, leading to more perspectives because these people will be given a voice in the global discourse for the first time
Diamandis then laid out the week ahead and said that there are eight primary technologies riding Moore’s law, many of which will disrupt medicine in our lifetimes: infinite computing, sensors and networks, robotics, 3D printing, synthetic biology, digital medicine, nanomaterials, and artificial intelligence.
The next speaker was John Abele, the founder of Boston Scientific and chairman of FIRST (“For Inspiration and Recognition in Science and Technology”), which promotes student involvement in robotics. Abele mirrored Diamandis’ talk and gave an overview of certain elements to consider when thinking about exponential growth and the “law of accelerating returns.” He began by opening up with the prediction that “advances in technology in the next five years will exceed those in the past five years.” There are a number of reasons for this including the improved access to and democratization of information, ability to communicate with experts, more and better materials for modeling and analysis, cheaper and more powerful tools for testing, increased ability to learn new skills, and the long-tail phenomenon that speaks to the rise of niche markets. One of the specific issues within medicine however is that while med tech is also growing exponentially, the rate of medical technology assessment is still growing linearly, leading to a bottleneck of the implementation of potentially life-saving technologies. Abele spoke of an “omission versus commission” problem: regulators often do not approve innovations that may save 10 lives for fear that they will adversely affect one life. Aren’t we effectively killing 10 people by not approving some of these technologies? That question leads to deep philosophical arguments (Kant v Mill, anyone?) that were beyond the scope of the 1-hour talk. Abele wrapped up by discussing the importance of collaboration to applying the law of accelerating returns to medical innovation.
The final speaker of the day was neurosurgical resident Shawna Pandya who assigned “homework” to the FutureMed 2013 Participants based on two encouraged perspectives: (1) question everything, (2) there are no problems, only opportunities. SU will be putting up a whiteboard to encourage collaborative discussions between participants about inefficiencies and opportunities within medicine and how to implement them.
Overall, a great evening at FutureMed. We look forward to the coming days – stay tuned!
Link: FutureMed homepage…