What’s The Future (WTF?) & how is your imagination failing you?

An inspiring talk and slides/notes by Tim O’Reilly at the OECD/G20 German Presidency conference on digitalization provides some great insights that I think the Healthcare industry can learn lots from.

Here are some notes I made watching it (please share in the comments any of your own):

“on my way here I spoke to a $150 device in my kitchen and asked “is my flight on time?” and when it answered me “yes” I asked it to call me a car to take me to the airport and a few minutes later a car showed up. Now somebody watching that interaction only a few years ago would have every reason to say WTF. WTF is of course an expression that stands for What’s the Future?”

A while ago I helped a colleague set up her Android phone and she called me to say this pretty much happened but without her having to do anything but look at her Samsung mobile and press a few buttons on an Uber app. For 3+ years Google Now has been able to automatically retrieve your boarding pass from the email you get when you make an online booking and the calendar and navigation app work out when you should be leaving for the airport based on flight data and your location and then ensure you get a reminder before it’s time to go – no need to say or remember anything or spend money subsidising an Amazon device that can listen in to everything that’s ever said in your kitchen (WTF!).

“I think it is a mark of our failure, we’ve somehow come to the conclusion that the role of technology is to eliminate jobs, the role of technology is to make businesses more efficient even if that means throwing people on the street. I don’t think that’s actually the right idea. It’s wrong for several reasons, as Andy McAfee the author of the Second Machine Age, said to me not long ago: “The People will rise up before the Robots do”. And we’ve seen this before back in the industrial revolution when the term Luddites was coined when weavers led by Ned Ludd went and smashed the looms. Those weavers couldn’t of imagined the future, they couldn’t imagine the future that those machines and the children of those machines would bring to their children and their grandchildren. They couldn’t imagine that ordinary people like them and not just kings and queens could enjoy the fruits of summer in the winter. They couldn’t imagine that there would be so much choice of food and clothing…   …they couldn’t imagine all of the amazing things that those machines under the direction of their descendants would bring to life and so when we think about digitalisation we have to ask ourselves what are we failing to imagine. What is the failure of our imagination that just like those people in the early industrial revolution could only imagine putting people out of work, they could only imagine replacing people with machines, they didn’t spend enough time imagining with the aid of those machines. Now eventually they did figure it out, you know in Victorian England they did realise ‘oh actually we don’t need to put all our children to work, let’s send them to school instead’…”

With imagination especially as most Patients today don’t ever have their personal context considered and Healthcare Professionals realise that most of what they are made to do is ridiculous if they had to say it out loud.

It’s a lack of imagination that has the Chair of the Royal College of GPs writing in the UK’s largest circulated broadsheet that “Technology will never replace doctors” when GPs are probably the group of Doctors who are the most capable and keen to embrace technology that replaces the need for Doctors (think Vaccines).

“Nick Hannauer is a friend of mine and was the first non family investor in Amazon so a very wealthy guy, and he has this wonderful line ‘technology is the solution to human problem, we won’t  run out of work until we run out of problems’. Now when you look around the world are we done yet? Are we done tackling all of the problems of the world? Have we figured out that there’s nothing left for technology to do? “

If you can’t see problems that we need to solve for Patients and Carers it’s time to move into another industry because you are the problem.

“We will create the economy of the future when we remember that the function of technology is to empower people to do things that were previously impossible”

This is really key. Embedding mHealth into medical devices makes it possible to provide care anywhere at anytime. It means we no longer need to manage diabetics with information that is months old and/or made up of averages. Would you walk across a road if you had information that was 10 seconds old or was based on averages for that road?

“At Internet scale, we now rely increasingly on algorithms to manage what we see and believe…   …The (US) government spent years and years building the Healthcare.gov website, they spent the better part of a billion dollars and it didn’t work. A small team came in from Silicon Valley and they built the website over two and a half months with seven people…  …Silicon Valley uses systems that are built for learning…  …this is so different from how governments think, governments think they’re going to go off on a commission, go off and write a bill, go off and design a program and get it right the first time because we have no mechanism for changing it or measuring if it even works. In Silicon Valley the first thing anyone builds is the infrastructure for measurement so that they can say we did this thing, it didn’t work, let’s stop doing it…     …When you look at a company like amazon, Facebook or Google you have to realise when you see the thousands of programmers working there. Those programmers are managers. The work is being done by the programmes, the algorithms, and the people you see working there are the managers of the workforce of the future. They are sitting there teaching their algorithms how to do the job…  …”We have to go from making apps to making ops”, Jennifer Pahika, CodeForAmerica & USDS’…   …we have to think how does digital allow us to chan,ge what we do in a profound way?    …Uber is a lesson in building for how the world should work instead of optimising for how the world works now” 

A lot of very intelligent technologists think Algorithms will replace Doctors because they fail to see that future role of the Doctor is in helping their Patients make sense of and understand the trust they should (and shouldn’t) place in algorithms and to help teach and manage algorithms that society can trust.

At present we don’t even train Doctors to accept information from Patients and they’re such luddites that most Med Students think Patients will think less of them if they pull out a networked supercomputer that we couldn’t of imagined ever existing just a few years ago.

Related Post: What unthinkable things will mHealth make possible?

About David Doherty

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