As entrepreneur guru Steve Blank would say, the fourth day of FutureMed got the participants “out of the building.” They spent the morning and afternoon on self-selected field trips at various SingularityU partner sites:
- Genentech – leading biotechnology company considered to have founded the industry,
- Autodesk – software company that focuses on 3D design software for use in the architecture, engineering, construction, manufacturing, media, and entertainment industries,
- Palantir – software company that offers a Java and Web-based platform for analyzing, integrating, and visualizing data of all kinds, including structured, unstructured, relational, temporal, and geospatial,
- IDEO – international design firm and innovation consultancy that helps design products, services, environments, and digital experiences. (descriptions from Wikipedia)
While we did not get to accompany the participants on the tours (we instead visited our friends at Rock Health’s San Francisco office), we heard great things about the trips from them. One of the participants, whom we met while demoing Welch Allyn’s iExaminer, is Trulia‘s co-founder and Rock Health advisor Sami Inkinen. He told us about his experience on the trips and at FutureMed in general:
I found the visits to Autodesk, Palantir, and IDEO fascinating. In particular the IDEO experience was really useful for me because I gained hands-on experience in learning how their general design process works.
With regard to the FutureMed experience in general, I think one of the main benefits is the ability to get not only your mind but also your body “out of the box.” I think this only happens when you enter an environment devoid of day-to-day distractions, that totally immerses you as FutureMed does. There were a number of ‘wow’ moments for me during the presentations; for example, as a computer scientist, I was impressed to learn that the next computer science revolution may come from programmable DNA and the fact that there are teenagers leveraging biotechnology in garage-based labs. A second benefit I’ve experienced by being here at FutureMed is the ability to interact with inspirational co-participants who bring a lot of ideas and experiences to the table.
We returned to the Singularity Classroom in the evening to hear the father of the Singularity movement himself, Ray Kurzweil, give a talk on “The impact of 21st century technology on human health and society.” As a reminder, each FutureMed participant was given two of his books: The Singularity is Near and How to Create a Mind. Kurzweil provided an overview of changes in medical technology that he believes will be game changers in the near future, ranging from control of telomerase to neural implants. He shared a few interesting images that depict major societal transitions such as Moore’s Law. One of his characteristically audacious predictions was that within 10 years scientists will have created a mouse that does not age, and within another 10 years there would be successful anti-aging interventions in human trials. One reason for this sanguinity is, in Kurzweil’s paraphrased words:
There is limited complexity to biology. I’m not saying it’s simple, but it’s certainly within our capability of understanding. For example, take ‘junk DNA’ which we know now does more than what we used to give it credit to. Much of the information within these base pairs can be stored with lossless compression because there are huge repeat sequences such as the Alu segments. My recent experiences at Google have fortified my belief in the power of analyzing vast quantities of data to gain clever insights.
Following Kurzweil’s talk, the final event of the evening was an innovation/entrepreneurship panel featuring angel investor Esther Dyson, translational doctor David Shaywitz, and Medical Futures co-founder Jeremy Stone. Each gave a brief presentation before taking questions from the audience. We particularly liked Shaywitz’s “lessons from the field of genetics for digital health”:
Data ≠ Insight
Insight ≠ Value
Forecasting = Unreliable
Implementation = Hard
With that we wrapped up day four at FutureMed. Stay tuned for more interviews and demos!