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Category: Health Tech

2024 Prediction: Society Will Arrive at an Inflection Point in AI Advancement

By MIKE MAGEE

For my parents, March, 1965 was a banner month. First, that was the month that NASA launched the Gemini program, unleashing “transformative capabilities and cutting-edge technologies that paved the way for not only Apollo, but the achievements of the space shuttle, building the International Space Station and setting the stage for human exploration of Mars.” It also was the last month that either of them took a puff of their favored cigarette brand – L&M’s.

They are long gone, but the words “Gemini” and the L’s and the M’s have taken on new meaning and relevance now six decades later.

The name Gemini reemerged with great fanfare on December 6, 2023, when Google chair, Sundar Pichai, introduced “Gemini: our largest and most capable AI model.” Embedded in the announcement were the L’s and the M’s as we see here: “From natural image, audio and video understanding to mathematical reasoning, Gemini’s performance exceeds current state-of-the-art results on 30 of the 32 widely-used academic benchmarks used in large language model (LLM) research and development.

Google’s announcement also offered a head to head comparison with GPT-4 (Generative Pretrained Transformer-4.) It is the product of a non-profit initiative, and was released on March 14, 2023. Microsoft’s helpful AI search engine, Bing, helpfully informs that, “OpenAI is a research organization that aims to create artificial general intelligence (AGI) that can benefit all of humanity…They have created models such as Generative Pretrained Transformers (GPT) which can understand and generate text or code, and DALL-E, which can generate and edit images given a text description.”

While “Bing” goes all the way back to a Steve Ballmer announcement on May 28, 2009, it was 14 years into the future, on February 7, 2023, that the company announced a major overhaul that, 1 month later, would allow Microsoft to broadcast that Bing (by leveraging an agreement with OpenAI) now had more than 100 million users.

Which brings us back to the other LLM (large language model) – GPT-4, which the Gemini announcement explores in a head-to-head comparison with its’ new offering. Google embraces text, image, video, and audio comparisons, and declares Gemini superior to GPT-4.

Mark Minevich, a “highly regarded and trusted Digital Cognitive Strategist,” writing this month in Forbes, seems to agree with this, writing, “Google rocked the technology world with the unveiling of Gemini – an artificial intelligence system representing their most significant leap in AI capabilities. Hailed as a potential game-changer across industries, Gemini combines data types like never before to unlock new possibilities in machine learning… Its multimodal nature builds on yet goes far beyond predecessors like GPT-3.5 and GPT-4 in its ability to understand our complex world dynamically.”

Expect to hear the word “multimodality” repeatedly in 2024 and with emphasis.

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AI Could Have “Unimaginable Consequences” For Democratic Societies, Says Expert.

By MIKE MAGEE

His biography states, “He speaks to philosophical questions about the fears and possibilities of new technology and how we can be empowered to shape our future. His work to bridge cultures spans artificial intelligence, cognition, language, music, creativity, ethics, society, and policy.”

He embraces the title “cross-disciplinary,” and yet his PhD thesis at UC Berkeley in 1980 “was one of the first to spur the paradigm shift toward machine learning based natural language processing technologies.” Credited with inventing and building “the world’s first global-scale online language translator that spawned Google Translate, Yahoo Translate, and Microsoft Bing Translator,” he is clearly a “connector” in a world currently consumed by “dividers.” In 2019, Google named De Kai as “one of eight inaugural members of its AI Ethics Council.”

The all encompassing challenge of our day, as he sees it, is relating to each other. As he says, “The biggest fear is fear itself – the way AI amplifies human fear exponentially…turning us upon ourselves through AI powered social media driving misinformation, divisiveness, polarization, hatred and paranoia.” The value system he embraces “stems from a liberal arts perspective emphasizing creativity in both technical and humanistic dimensions.”

Dr. De Kai is feeling especially urgent these days, which is a bit out of character.

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From Xenobots to Anthrobots

By KIM BELLARD

There were many things I could have written bout this week – e.g., in A.I., in quantum computing, even “transparent wood” — but when I saw some news about biological robots, I knew I had my topic.

The news comes from researchers at Tufts University and Harvard’s Wyss Institute. Their paper appeared in Advanced Science, introducing “a spheroid-shaped multicellular biological robot (biobot) platform” that they fondly dubbed “Anthrobots.” Importantly, the Anthrobots are made from human cells.

Let’s back up. In 2020, senior researcher Michael Levin, Ph.D., who holds positions at both Tufts and Harvard, worked with Josh Bongard, Ph.D. of the University of Vermont to create biological robots made from frog embryo cells, which they called Xenobots.  They were pretty impressive, capable of navigating passageways, collecting material, recording information, healing themselves from injury, and even replicating for a few cycles on their own, but the researchers wanted to find out if they could create biological robots from other types of cells – especially human cells.

Well, the new research showed that they could. They started with cells from adult trachea, and without genetic modification were able to demonstrate capabilities beyond those Xenobots had demonstrated. Lead author Gizem Gumuskaya, a PhD. student said: “We wanted to probe what cells can do besides create default features in the body. By reprogramming interactions between cells, new multicellular structures can be created, analogous to the way stone and brick can be arranged into different structural elements like walls, archways or columns.”   

The Anthrobots come in different shapes and sizes, and are capable of different motions. Ms. Gumuskaya is quite excited about their capabilities:

The cells can form layers, fold, make spheres, sort and separate themselves by type, fuse together, or even move. Two important differences from inanimate bricks are that cells can communicate with each other and create these structures dynamically, and each cell is programmed with many functions, like movement, secretion of molecules, detection of signals and more. We are just figuring out how to combine these elements to create new biological body plans and functions—different than those found in nature.

Even better, Ms. Gumuskaya pointed out: “Anthrobots self-assemble in the lab dish. Unlike Xenobots, they don’t require tweezers or scalpels to give them shape, and we can use adult cells – even cells from elderly patients – instead of embryonic cells. It’s fully scalable—we can produce swarms of these bots in parallel, which is a good start for developing a therapeutic tool.”

They tested Anthrobots’ healing capabilities by scratching a layer of neurons, then exposed the gap to a cluster of Anthrobots called a “superbot.”  That triggered neuron growth only in that area. The researchers noted: “Most remarkably, we found that Anthrobots induce efficient healing of defects in live human neural monolayers in vitro, causing neurites to grow into the gap and join the opposite sides of the injury.”

“The cellular assemblies we construct in the lab can have capabilities that go beyond what they do in the body,” said Dr. Levin. “It is fascinating and completely unexpected that normal patient tracheal cells, without modifying their DNA, can move on their own and encourage neuron growth across a region of damage.”

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Where is AI in Medicine Going? Ask The Onion.

By MIKE MAGEE

One of the top ten headlines of all time created by the satirical geniuses at The Onion was published 25 years ago this December. It read, “God Answers Prayers Of Paralyzed Little Boy. ‘No,’ Says God.”

The first paragraph of that column introduced us to Timmy Yu, an optimistic 7-year old, who despite the failures of the health system had held on to his “precious dream.” As the article explained, “From the bottom of his heart, he has hoped against hope that God would someday hear his prayer to walk again. Though many thought Timmy’s heavenly plea would never be answered, his dream finally came true Monday, when the Lord personally responded to the wheelchair-bound boy’s prayer with a resounding no.”

But with a faith that rivals the chieftains of today’s American health care system who continue to insist this is “the best health care in the world,” this Timmy remained undeterred. As The Onion recorded the imagined conversation, “‘I knew that if I just prayed hard enough, God would hear me,’ said the joyful Timmy,., as he sat in the wheelchair to which he will be confined for the rest of his life. ‘And now my prayer has been answered. I haven’t been this happy since before the accident, when I could walk and play with the other children like a normal boy.’”

According to the article, the child did mildly protest the decision, but God held the line, suggesting other alternatives. “God strongly suggested that Timmy consider praying to one of the other intercessionary agents of Divine power, like Jesus, Mary or maybe even a top saint,” Timmy’s personal physician, Dr. William Luttrell, said. ‘The Lord stressed to Timmy that it was a long shot, but He said he might have better luck with one of them.’”

It didn’t take a wild leap of faith to be thrust back into the present this week. Transported by a headline to Rochester, Minnesota, the banner read, “Mayo Clinic to spend $5 billion on tech-heavy redesign of its Minnesota campus.” The “reinvention” is intended to “to present a 21st-century vision of clinical care” robust enough to fill 2.4 million square feet of space.

The Mayo Clinic’s faith in this vision is apparently as strong as little “Timmy’s”, and their “God” goes by the initials AI.

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Stephanie Strong, CEO, Boulder

Stephanie Strong is the CEO of Boulder, which has been blazing a trail in the virtual treatment of substance use disorder. She left venture capital to start the company and has been steadily building its capabilities and reach. We talked in depth about how Boulder helps its patients, who are predominantly on Medicaid and in general tend–as you’d expect–not to have easy circumstances. One remarkable thing Stephanie has done is spearhead resistance to the DEA’s proposal to ban telehealth prescribing of the anti-addiction drug Buprenorphine. And it looks like that campaign has been successful. that alone will save many lives. Watch this interview of a young female CEO who is making a real difference, and totally impressing me in the processMatthew Holt

THCB Gang Special: Episode 138, Thursday 30 November 2023 with Jen Goldsack

On #THCBGang today we have a special solo episode with Olympic rower for 2 countries and Digital Medicine Society CEO Jennifer Goldsack, (@GoldsackJen) joining Matthew Holt (@boltyboy). It’s at at 1pm PST 4pm EST on Thursday November 30. Find out about what DiME is and does, and what projects it is pushing forward in the future of health tech.

You can see the video below & if you’d rather listen than watch, the audio is preserved as a weekly podcast available on our iTunes & Spotify channels.

Health Innovation & Data: Five Common Missteps (and How to Interrupt Them)

By MARIE COPOULOS

I’ve had the great fortune of spending much of my career at the intersection of health care innovation and the underlying data that drives new models.

For those of us who’ve worked in this space for a long time, there’s a certain pattern recognition that comes with this work that is often immediate and obvious – both in terms of really cool developments but also gotchas. “Ah, you’re stumbling here. Everyone does that.”

The challenge, I’ve found, is that these ‘gotchas’ that can be so visible to the folx who’ve worked in health tech for the past few decades can be counterintuitive in the business and even met with resistance. Why?

I’m going to focus here on pattern recognition, with the goal of highlighting common stumbling blocks and, critically, ways you can interrupt them if you see them.

Pattern #1: Lacking a Clear-Eyed View of Market Data Gaps
Key Question: Do you understand how the market you’re in informs your ability to measure your work and use data to drive insight?

For those of you building models that change the status quo – this is for you. By nature these innovations break from existing care and financial models with the goal to improve them. We need this in health care. However, it’s common to overlook the fact that breaking with the status quo also breaks with the ways that we capture and serve up health data.

To this end, don’t assume you will be able to measure and show success, and that the data you need must be out there. The true differentiator is for both to align. Design with intention.

If you’re at the stage of thinking about a productized solution to a health care problem, then it is also the right time to look at the market with a lens toward data availability. In your problem space, what’s the data set you’re likely to lean on? Is it sufficient?

If the answer is that the data is not available or notoriously problematic in your market space for the problem you’re solving, this merits a pause. Can you find a way to survive in this reality? Can you create the data set you need? Can you adjust what you’re doing in some way to align with what is available? Is qualitative feedback ok?

Pattern #2: Accumulating Non-Technical Roadblocks Key Question: Do you have a good handle on the non-technical challenges impacting your data business?

A decade ago I would have approached this question differently. Technical challenges were often paramount as we tried to figure out how to solve the basics. Today, however, it’s often the opposite, in that business challenges are more likely to slow down technical progress than the other way around.

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Amazon Can Still Surprise Me

By KIM BELLARD

It’s Cyber Monday, and you’ve probably been shopping this weekend. In-stores sales on Black Friday rose 2.2% this year, whereas online sakes rose almost 8%, to $9.8b – over half of which was via mobile shopping. Cyber Monday, though, is expected to outpace Black Friday’s online shopping, with an estimated $12b, 5.4% higher than last year. 

Lest we forget, Amazon’s Prime Day is even bigger than either Cyber Monday or Black Friday.  

All that shopping means lots of deliveries, and here’s where I got a surprise: according to a Wall Street Journal analysis, Amazon is now the leading (private) delivery service. The analysis found that Amazon has already shipped some 4.8 billion packages door-to-door, and expects to finish the year with some 5.9bn. UPS is expected to have some 5.3bn, while FedEx is close to 3bn – and – unlike Amazon’s numbers — both include deliveries where the U.S. Postal Service actually does the “last mile delivery.” 

Just a few years ago, WSJ reminds us, the idea that Amazon would deliver the most packages was considered “fantastical” by its competitors. “In all likelihood, the primary deliverers of e-commerce shipments for the foreseeable future will be UPS, the U.S. Postal Service and FedEx,” the then-CEO of Fed Ex said at the time. That quote didn’t age well.

Amazon’s growth is attributed in part to its contractor delivery program, whose 200,000 drivers (usually) wear Amazon uniforms and drive Amazon-branded vehicles, although they don’t actually work for Amazon, and a pandemic-driven doubling of its logistics network. WSJ reports: “Amazon has moved to regionalize its logistics network to reduce how far packages travel across the U.S. in an effort to get products to customers faster and improve profitability.”

It worked.

But I shouldn’t be surprised. Amazon usually gets good at what it tries. Take cloud computing.  Amazon Web Services (AWS) in its early years was considered something of a capital sink, but now not only is by far the market leader, with 32% market share (versus Azure’s 22%) but also generates close to 70% of Amazon’s profits

Prime, Amazon’s subscription service, now has some 200 million subscribers worldwide, some 167 million are in the U.S. Seventy-one percent of Amazon shoppers are Prime members, and its fees account for over 50% of all U.S. paid retail membership fees (Costco trails at under 10%). There’s some self-selection involved, but Prime members spend about three times as much on Amazon as nonprime members.

The world’s biggest online retailer. The biggest U.S. delivery service. The world’s biggest cloud computing service. The world’s second largest subscription service (watch out Netflix!).  It’s “only” the fifth largest company in the world by market capitalization, but don’t bet against it. 

I must admit, I’ve been a bit of a skeptic when it comes to Amazon’s interest in healthcare. I first wrote about them almost ten years ago, and over those years Amazon has continued to put its feet further into healthcare’s muddy waters.

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