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Medicine’s Tech Future: the View from the Valley

A few quick impressions from last week’s FutureMed extravaganza put on by Singularity University at the Museum of Computer History, a stone’s throw from Google’s Mountain View headquarters.

The event featured an exhibition session where emerging digital health companies (with some others) demo’d their initial products, followed by a plenary session introduced by FutureMed Executive Director (and former MGH medicine colleague) Daniel Kraft, and featuring presentations to the packed house by several leading innovators – including one of the developers of IBM’s Watson, which is pivoting from Jeopardy to clinical medicine.

Given the high density of reporters there – to say nothing of innovators, would-be innovators, VCs, and assorted poseurs (categories not mutually exclusive) – I expect there should be lucid coverage available elsewhere on the web.

Instead, I want to capture the three sequential reactions I had, which strike me as somewhat analogous to Haeckel’s Law (ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny), as each response seems to reflect a distinct stage of professional development.

The inevitable initial, and most visceral reaction to this sort of event, is that technology is wicked cool, and will deliver us all; I think this two minute introductory video captures the vibe more effectively than any description I could offer.   I’m also certain any student of semiotics would find it especially rewarding.

Accordingly, even much of the informal discussion at the event seemed to revolve around Big Questions, lofty ideas, and the Next Big Thing.  New technologies and approaches – artificial organs from stem cells!  Computers that can read your mind! Bottom-up innovation!  Exponentials! – were discussed expectantly, the key question being not if, but when.  The remarkable progress many in the tech crowd had seen in other disciplines suggested that technology advances in health would be similarly achievable, and just as inevitable.

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