Techonomy http://techonomy.com Fri, 05 Feb 2016 21:50:32 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.2 A Key Question of the Digital Era: How Much Information is Too Much? http://techonomy.com/2016/02/a-key-question-of-the-digital-era-how-much-information-is-too-much-2/ http://techonomy.com/2016/02/a-key-question-of-the-digital-era-how-much-information-is-too-much-2/#respond Fri, 05 Feb 2016 21:11:10 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25900 Mobile technology is rapidly changing the way we live. But it brings an explosion in data consumption. Last year the world consumed 4 petabytes of data a month on mobile phones. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes.) Within five years, the amount will likely grow to over 24 billion petabytes. Is there a limit to how much info we can healthily consume?

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image courtesy Shutterstock

image courtesy Shutterstock

Mobile technology is rapidly changing the way we live. This is most dramatic in emerging countries that have simply skipped the static world of desktop computers and one-to-one emails and moved directly to the untethered, always-on Internet. According to the GSMA (the global cellphone trade group), mobile phones are now used by half of the world’s 7.2 billion people. They not only connect people easily and cheaply, but they are spawning a rapidly-developing technology ecosystem that provides cheap and easy access to the web along with a host of other services, such as low cost ways to send and receive money without the need for a bank account.

Mobile networks also produce, as a by-product, rich and dynamic streams of data about individual consumers. This data, it turns out, can be interpreted to generate powerful predictors of creditworthiness and how people are likely to respond to product and services offerings. Big data analytics companies like Cignifi, where I am CEO, and others can now for the first time design financial products and reach millions of underserved customers in an efficient, data-driven way. This has been incredibly transformative and positive, especially in emerging markets.

But on the other side of the coin, all of this is bringing an explosion in data consumption. Last year we consumed (by GSMA estimates) 4 billion petabytes of data a month globally on mobile phones. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes.) Within five years, as smartphone penetration continues to rise, GSMA calculates that the monthly amount will likely grow to the astonishing figure of over 24 billion petabytes – an annual increase of more than 50%.

As technologists, our first instinct is to celebrate this rapid increase in connectivity. After all, it means greater opportunity for inclusion, the democratization of information, and so many other positive advancements. But we might also want to reflect on whether the unconstrained growth is unambiguously a good thing. In previous generations we agonized over consumption of material goods – how many cars, clothes and electronic gadgets do we really need? In the digital era perhaps we need to reformulate this question: how much information consumption is enough?

The personal and highly-addictive nature of mobile devices makes this question a lot more troubling than, say, worries over the impact of television a generation ago. Most of us in the developed world are already familiar with the way mobile devices routinely intrude on our time. We increasingly live our lives in a digital bubble. Facebook allows us to present an idealized, self-curated image of ourselves to our “friends”. We consume news and information that is pre-filtered to fit with our digitally-discovered preferences. We are distracted, checking emails at business meetings and often only half–present even with our closest family. And the mobile addiction means we have less and less time to think deeply and be ourselves.

There are no easy solutions to these dilemmas. As individuals we need to understand how to control our urge to consume digitally, while enjoying the benefits that technology brings. Technology itself must be a part of the solution. Digital is already an enormous force for social good. We could also try to envisage new and different types of digital communication channels for different types of relationships; solutions that strengthen our independent thinking; greater opportunities and incentives to encourage education, creativity, and self-control. These are themes that we must continue to grapple with as the new digital era envelops the world.

Jonathan Hakim is CEO and founder of Cignifi, the first-ever big data analytics platform to translate mobile phone data into marketing propensity and credit scores.

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Digital Tools Will Keep Us Healthier, a Davos Dinner Concludes http://techonomy.com/2016/02/digital-tools-will-keep-us-healthier-a-davos-dinner-concludes/ http://techonomy.com/2016/02/digital-tools-will-keep-us-healthier-a-davos-dinner-concludes/#respond Wed, 03 Feb 2016 22:05:08 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25872 At a fascinating dinner in Davos, health care leaders tackled the changing face of healthcare in a digital age, and how technology can empower both patients and caregivers. The deeply-informed group was optimistic that huge progress is possible, and soon. The host was healthcare technology giant Philips,

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Philips had an artist/scribe documenting the discussion. This is one of her four drawings. (see others at bottom)

Artist/scribe Michelle Wright documented the dinner’s discussion for Philips. This is one of her four drawings. (see others at bottom)

In the U.S. there is one cardiologist for every 14,000 people. In Indonesia, it’s one for every 500,000. That’s the kind of fact that a group of health care leaders and thinkers from both the private sector and governments tackled at a fascinating dinner in Davos at the World Economic Forum, which I had the privilege of moderating. The landscape of modern healthcare is frustrating because so much remains to be done to insure the world’s population has access to the healthcare they need. But the deeply-informed group was optimistic that huge progress is possible, and soon. The dinner, organized by healthcare technology giant Philips, focused on how technology can empower both patients and caregivers.

One conclusion I came to, listening to the passion and knowledge about this topic around the Davos table: The digital revolution that has so thoroughly transformed our lives is finally beginning to transform health care. While the movement towards digitally-driven care is still in its early stages, the room of CEOs, doctors, ministers of health, NGO leaders, hospital operators, and businesspeople were in wide agreement that it means more people can become and stay healthier.

What Philips and many in the room are working for is something I like to think of as a web of care, a supportive infrastructure the weaves together doctors, people, and the institutions of health. The Internet of Things will play a huge role in this transformation, as a more interconnected world gathers signals from patient monitors, the environment, and hospital and clinic systems and puts it all in the cloud. Then we can apply analytics on the ensuing databases, both to insure better care for individuals and to come to research conclusions that will help all of us going forward.

Jeroen Tas, who heads Philips’ Healthcare Informatics group, kicked off the dinner by explaining the company view–that the role of tech is to “augment us.” He continued: “With data and data analytics we can personalize care and bring human intervention and interaction where it’s needed and where today it’s lacking.” Tas explained, as an example, that Philips has recently launched a major program in Indonesia to use tech to address an acute shortage of midwives and gynecologists. “We can hook people up using a tablet and give the doctor an obstetric monitoring app,” he said. The community nurse hits a triage button and connects online so a gynecologist can look at pregnant women remotely. As the Indonesian program takes off, Tas says, it will become much easier to get the right care to the right people at the right time, despite the shortage of specialists.

But one theme that emerged over and over during the discussions is that tech is no replacement for the human touch. A need for the soothing and personal care of the professional will never go away. Nobody in the room wanted to head into a world of robotic care with no doctors or nurses. As Philips CEO Frans Van Houten said, “We should not make technology the center point. It is an enabler. We’re here to celebrate health, not technology.”

Nonetheless, as systems become more refined and building and implementing them becomes cheaper, it will be tempting to rely on them more and more for things that formerly were the province of doctors and other healthcare workers. As tech moves with headlong speed and enables seeming digital miracles, it will take decades to learn where the proper lines are between human and machine-driven care.

One of the stars of the discussion was Bernard J. Tyson, Chairman and CEO of the Kaiser Permanente health system. Kaiser has pioneered numerous healthcare innovations in its 38 hospitals and more than 600 outpatient facilities in eight U.S. states and Washington, D.C. Tyson spoke eloquently about the increasingly tight digital connection between Kaiser’s 18,000 doctors and its 10.2 million members. Members routinely email their doctors, and get extensive consultation online and by phone, even while continuing roughly the same number of in-person visits to their doctors as before. The key differentiator for Kaiser is that it serves as both the health insurer and the healthcare provider. So unlike the adversarial and fractured nature of much of the rest of American healthcare, at Kaiser the company’s primary interest is in keeping its members healthy. In doing so, it has been aggressive about implementing digital tools like apps for members, online information, and 24X7 personal online interaction.

Another of the dinner’s stars was Zeke Emanuel, Chair of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania and an advisor on healthcare to President Obama. Emanuel is a huge fan of Kaiser Permanente and spoke at the dinner about what he considers the inevitable “Kaiserization” of American healthcare. The consolidation of insurers and caregivers–the routine structure of healthcare in most countries around the world–is inevitable in the U.S. as well, Emanual believes. He thinks it’s not that far off, either. “There’s simply no choice,” he told the group.

For all the virtues of a more connected system, many in the room worry about doctors feeling overwhelmed with the growing demands of a connected system. Emails come in around the clock. That poses big challenges, but it also means that doctors become more connected to their patients. That has proven hugely important at Kaiser, Tyson said. Its members have become more engaged with their own healthcare, staying more informed.

Another speaker at the dinner was Ron Gutman, CEO of HealthTap, which has assembled a network of 85,000 doctors who help it assemble a vast database of information about health and wellness, and can consult directly with members via video, voice or chat. Members of its HealthTap Concierge service get direct private voice consultations with a personal doctor. But for all his digital assets, even Gutman said what what his service aims for is “compassion, not just recommendation.”

One of the evening’s most memorable moments came when someone mentioned that even obvious interventions that cost little are not widely understood. He mentioned as an example that older adults should take one baby aspirin every day. Many in the room expressed surprise that this was something everyone should do. As moderator, I surveyed the room. Only three people turned out to take baby aspirin every day, but they were Emanuel, Tyson, and one of the other most eminent health leaders in the room. Everyone turned to one another and said, “OK, now I’m going to start doing it.” While that revelation was not a digital one, it underscored how valuable will be systems that efficiently explain how people can prevent disease and take better care of their health.

 

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3_system affordability & outcomes4_Business models

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Genomic Medicine Is Here. American Healthcare Isn’t Ready. http://techonomy.com/2016/02/genomic-medicine-is-here-american-healthcare-isnt-ready/ http://techonomy.com/2016/02/genomic-medicine-is-here-american-healthcare-isnt-ready/#respond Tue, 02 Feb 2016 16:16:17 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25865 As many as half a million people have had their genomes sequenced. This data has already contributed to major medical success stories, but it is not yet clear that genomics can overcome the significant barriers that exist in traditional medicine to achieve its potential for American healthcare.

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Illustration for Techonomy by Jonathan Rosen

Illustration for Techonomy by Jonathan Rosen

This article originally appeared in Techonomy Magazine, in print and digital form. 

By some estimates, as many as half a million people have had their genomes sequenced—through research projects, clinical programs, or consumer services. In the next few years, that number is expected to grow quickly into the millions. This data has already contributed to major medical success stories, but it is not yet clear that genomics can overcome the significant barriers that exist in traditional medicine to achieve its potential for healthcare.

When genomic medicine works, it works impressively, helping doctors diagnose rare or novel diseases and successfully treat patients, sometimes with drugs approved for other conditions. It can provide more accurate prognoses for things like cancer recurrence or susceptibility. But it’s an entirely new form of information, and one that doesn’t fit neatly into medicine as we know it. There are several big systemic challenges that need to be addressed before genomic medicine can make a difference for the average patient. That includes electronic medical records that aren’t structured to hold DNA information, and physicians who have insufficient training in genetics.

One major promise of genomic medicine is that it could give consumers far more control over their own health. A person who learns that he or she is at significantly increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes or of becoming obese, for example, has more motivation to change his or her diet and lifestyle. But consumers need help incorporating genetic data into their lives, from better basic education to increased availability of genetic counselors.

Despite the challenges, genomics experts are optimistic. According to George Church, a genomics pioneer, professor at Harvard, and founder of the Personal Genome Project, “We’re at a tipping point” with genomics, where “you actually believe it could do something for you the way you believe your cell phone and your car can do something for you.” He continues: “The instant that word starts spreading…it will be very interesting to watch.”

It’s no secret that most physicians are apprehensive about genomic data. Extensive surveys in the field, as well as anecdotal data from hordes of patients, reveal that doctors are resistant to this kind of information—sometimes because they believe it holds no medical value, but more often because they are not confident in their ability to interpret genetic data and make treatment or other decisions based on it. Electronic medical record systems were not built to hold this kind of information, making it even harder to integrate into routine clinical use.

“Physicians don’t want to be surprised; they don’t want to look stupid,” Church says. “So they will push back. And if they genuinely don’t feel that it’s the standard of care—which it isn’t—they may be justified.” (“Standard of care” means the conventional approach to treating a particular disease or situation. Doctors are inclined to stick to it to reduce liability risks and increase their chances of getting reimbursed by insurance companies.) Church believes society will overcome this impedance quickly, as consumers spread the word about which doctors embrace genetic testing, just as they share their views about doctors in online rankings now.

There are signs of progress. A massive genomics effort at Geisinger Health System in Pennsylvania aims to generate DNA data on 250,000 people. The project required an entirely new approach to working with patients, including new consent forms to cover genomic information, figuring out how to handle unexpected findings of important medical data, new sorts of links to patients’ medical records, and more. This is a massive investment for Geisinger, but as projects like this one work out the kinks, they could provide a template for other healthcare institutions that don’t have the resources to start such programs from scratch.

Getting physicians on board will take time. Medical schools today are doing more to implement education around genome sequencing, so newly minted MDs from now on are likely to have open minds about using this kind of data.

Steven Murphy, a physician and managing partner of the Diagnostic and Medical Specialists of Greenwich in Connecticut, has carefully built genomic medicine into his practice. He believes that reimbursement policies and clinical labs will play important roles in the transition. “If labs can make quite a bit of money, they will make sure that doctors order the tests,” he says, noting that educational programs and community support are two common methods used by labs to promote new sorts of tests. “Right now genomic medicine is nowhere near the standard of care in many fields, and is the standard of care in very few fields,” Murphy adds. “I believe that in the next five years, that will reverse itself.”

Genome interpretation services will also be critical. Genome sequencing routinely reveals millions of genetic variants in each person’s genome, including hundreds of thousands that may be unique to each individual. Even the most motivated physician couldn’t hope to be an expert on all of those variants, so data analysts around the world are working to build automated interpretation systems that could provide useful guidance about their importance and what biological impact they might have.

As doctors and medical institutions brace for the onslaught of genomic data, consumers have plenty to do as well. If your last encounter with genetics was in high school biology class, you’re not alone—but you’re probably also woefully underprepared to take advantage of DNA data that could help you lead a healthier life.

Initiatives like the Personal Genetics Education Project at Harvard are making strides in getting consumers ready for this kind of information, with efforts aimed at young students, teachers, Congressional representatives, and even Hollywood writers and producers. (It assists them in realistically portraying genetics-related topics.) Biologist Ting Wu, founder and director of the project, says that when her team goes to classrooms, their main objective is just to foster an interest in DNA. “Our top goal is to convey a sense of confidence that genetics is accessible to anybody; that their opinions, even if they’re not scientists, matter and are valid,” she says.

Whether consumers get genomic information on their own or through a doctor, the best tool for figuring out its relevance is a genetic counselor. These are the relatively scarce medical professionals who are trained to interpret genetic data and to help people understand what they could learn, what they won’t learn, and how to use the results they get. Today there is a severe shortage of such counselors. That will become a major obstacle to proper use of this information as more people gain access.

Even as efforts are underway to integrate genomic medicine with routine healthcare, attention must be paid to the substantial looming ethical questions. Genetic testing has gained traction fastest in prenatal care, where it is quickly displacing conventional screening tests for fetal disorders. As these tests shift from looking at a few genes to a baby’s whole genome, we may learn more than we bargained for.

Parents may face extremely hard choices about terminating pregnancies. Doctors will struggle with what information parents should get access to. And ultimately society will have to debate how much it values biological diversity versus specific goals of altered health, athleticism, intellect, and more.

We also owe ourselves a serious debate about our right not to know things. Should people be able to opt out of receiving results for their susceptibility for, say, Alzheimer’s disease? Conversely, will there be a point at which the societal need to allocate resources for taking care of a growing population with Alzheimer’s will outweigh an individual’s right to blissful ignorance?

Esther Dyson, a philanthropist and board member of the Personal Genome Project, contends, “It is your data. It is your right to look at it, understand it, share it—or not share it.” But she thinks concerns over people’s reaction to genetic results are overblown. “I think more people commit suicide or have heart attacks over their tax forms than over genetics,” she says.

For his part, Church sees the imminent public acceptance of genomics as game-changing. “Every now and then, consumers embrace very complicated technology,” he says. “It breaks through the priesthood that can build up around really old technologies. Probably the most important feature of genomics is that it’s new.”

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Dear Scientists: This Is Why People Hate You http://techonomy.com/2016/01/dear-scientists-this-is-why-people-hate-you/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/dear-scientists-this-is-why-people-hate-you/#comments Thu, 28 Jan 2016 21:29:33 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25834 Editors of the New England Journal of Medicine called scientists who make discoveries from publicly-shared data “research parasites.” Outrage ensued. Too many scientists believe they get a competitive advantage from data no one else has access to.

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shutterstock_347972528

Illustration by Titima Ongkantong, courtesy Shutterstock

If you don’t hang out on genomics social media forums, you’ve probably missed the swirling debate about an editorial published recently in the venerable New England Journal of Medicine. In it, the journal’s lead editors discuss data sharing practices and (here’s where it gets good) refer to scientists who make new discoveries from publicly shared data as “research parasites.”

I’m delighted to report that a number of scientists, many of them from the genomics community, jumped all over this nonsense. Jonathan Eisen, a microbial specialist who always has a way with words, called the editorial “simply deranged.” There’s a great account of the incident details here. (The uproar was so intense that the editors backpedaled quickly.)

I cut my teeth observing the genomics community, where data sharing was not only accepted practice, it was codified into the principles established by the scientists themselves. They reasoned that they’d be producing so much data, they would need as many eyes and brains on it as possible. Today, important new discoveries are routinely made by scientists who round up existing sources of data, mix it into new combinations, and look at it with a fresh perspective. We call it progress. It’s already making a difference in medicine.

But genomics is just one tiny sliver of biology, and biology is a small piece of the scientific pie. In the world beyond genomics, data hoarding is often standard practice. Like the NEJM editors, many scientists believe that other researchers cannot fully understand their data, and therefore any analysis they conduct on it might be flawed. They also believe, but are less willing to say publicly, that having a set of data that no one else has access to gives them a competitive advantage in a world of limited grant funding and tenured positions. The latter argument is institutional and hard for any individual scientist to change; the former can be a sign of shoddy science.

Remember those pesky lab notebooks you had to keep in high school science class? The reason they exist is so that scientists can track, with painstaking detail, every step they take to generate a set of results. When scientists publish that work in academic journals, they are supposed to include enough of that information to allow someone else to replicate the experiment and see if the results come out the same. The very nature of the scientific process relies on researchers’ ability to make sure other people understand exactly how they produced the information in the first place. If that’s not happening, then a fundamental safety net of science has been removed, and nobody’s noticed.

More broadly, this idea that scientists are afraid other people will come along and make new discoveries from their data is the best possible argument for sharing data as broadly and as often as possible. And those people who hoard data with the intrinsic goal of preventing others from figuring out something that they haven’t gotten around to yet? Simply put, there should be no place for them in science.

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Balancing Privacy and User Experience: The Challenge of the Digital Age http://techonomy.com/2016/01/balancing-privacy-and-user-experience-the-challenge-of-the-digital-age/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/balancing-privacy-and-user-experience-the-challenge-of-the-digital-age/#respond Wed, 20 Jan 2016 23:42:01 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25815 If companies fail to meet heightened data protection standards and other growing customer expectations around privacy and respect for their data, they may be fined, lose customer trust, and possibly put the entire company at risk. This is especially true in Europe. At the same time, companies that lose sight of the customer experience will not be successful long term. The conundrum is a kind of “digital Scylla and Charybdis”.

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Illustration for Techonomy by Clara Kirkpatrick

Illustration for Techonomy by Clara Kirkpatrick

Today there is no such thing as a non data-driven company. But firms face a tough choice when it comes to handling and optimizing the vast amount of information available to them. Corporate leaders are scrambling to jump on the “Big Data” bandwagon to extract maximum value for their business. Meanwhile, providing adequate safeguards for customer data too often remains in the lurch.

To thrive in today’s market, simplicity and ease-of-use is essential to succeed and achieve broad consumer adoption. Yet while we live in a “one-click world” – IT at its core will remain complex. Each step towards customization and improved usability requires increasingly more personal data, and simplified user interfaces fundamentally challenge a company’s ability to apply best practices when collecting and processing user data.

Failure of corporations to meet heightened data protection standards and related customer expectations will result in steep fines, a lack of customer trust, and could possibly even put the entire company at risk. This is especially true in Europe. At the same time, companies that lose sight of the customer experience as they implement regulatory compliance protocols will not be successful long term. The conundrum is a kind of “digital Scylla and Charybdis”.

How did we get to this point?

There is no doubt that IT has been consumerized. Smartphones, tablets, and wearables have all fundamentally altered our productivity, our interaction with the world, our purchasing habits and banking, and the means by which we consume media content. According to a November 2015 survey released by telecoms equipment giant Ericsson, the total number of mobile phone subscriptions in Q3 2015 was around 7.3 billion globally. This is roughly the same number of people as are on the planet, though many still remain unconnected while lots of people in richer countries have multiple accounts.

We are becoming increasingly reliant on these new technologies. About half of U.S. smartphone owners check their devices multiple times an hour and another 20 percent of Americans look at their phone about hourly, according to a 2015 poll from Gallup.

At the same time, however, even more is still to come. Currently our online habits center on a few basic functions like email, search, online shopping, and social media. But once connected homes become ubiquitous, smart cars are the norm, and Virtual Reality/Artificial Reality devices proliferate life will never be the same again.

That day will be here sooner than we realize. According to the Ericsson report, Machine-to-Machine (M2M) use is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25 percent up to 2021. In total, it is expected that around 28 billion connected devices, or roughly four for every person on the planet, will be in use by 2021; of those, more than 15 billion will be connected M2M and consumer electronics devices.

Looking forward, these machines will even move towards analyzing human behavior in real time and provide what has been described as “contextually aware suggestions.”

Unfortunately in this period of rapid innovation and a race to market, developers have failed to focus on data privacy and security concerns. This strategy cannot be successful moving forward. Both government regulators and consumers are fighting back.

Last month the European Union passed new comprehensive data protection laws –some of the most progressive and stringent in the world. In the United States, the FTC is taking on an increasingly active role of policing the data-driven activities of companies under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act prohibiting ‘‘unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.’’ In China, a draft Network Security Law released over the summer notably included requirements for Chinese network operators to safeguard personal information and obtain consumer consent to use personal data.

Additionally, consumers are increasingly aware that their data hold significant value to companies and that right now firms are keeping the vast share of the derived economic benefit to themselves. According to a special Eurobarometer Study published in June 2015, only 15 percent of Europeans feel they have complete control over the information they provide online; 31 percent think they have no control over it at all; and 67 percent respondents are concerned about not having complete control over the information they provide online.

All Roads Lead to UX

These trends are now coming to a head and are forcing both startups and established corporations to define their identities in this new age, and how they want to present themselves to the public. Getting their approach to privacy right while remaining consumer friendly will be absolutely critical to their future. Once they choose their way forward, next steps will need to include re-engineering their culture, corporate DNA, enterprise architecture, and overall mindset. It is no longer just about information domination and siloed knowledge stacks.

Companies must create a digital inventory so they have complete understanding of their data needs and holdings. Designers, developers, and marketers must closely coordinate with experts on data privacy and risk management. Clear ongoing lines of communication will be necessary as they together build new products or re-engineer or update existing ones.

Indispensable tools in this endeavor will be what is known as the Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) – a systematic review of each project’s data management to ensure it is compliant with relevant regulations. Many companies already conduct similar programs to vet their cybersecurity protocols. Those can now serve as a blueprint for PIAs to ensure privacy compliance whenever a company creates a new offering, modifies its business model, or faces a changing regulatory landscape.

Privacy is a critical competitive differentiator and will require the successful implementation of such protocols. Customers must feel they are entering into a relationship with the company on equitable terms. Firms must avoid antagonizing users with unnecessary data requests, even as they simplify and streamline the user experience. That is how companies from now on can create a sustainable business..

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Why Obama Is Right about Cancer: Genomics http://techonomy.com/2016/01/why-obama-is-right-about-cancer-genomics/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/why-obama-is-right-about-cancer-genomics/#respond Wed, 13 Jan 2016 21:22:12 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25719 President Obama’s optimistic language about finally nearing a cure for cancer in the State of the Union comes as creative approaches are showing more promise than ever. Two major announcements highlight important new opportunities to diagnose and treat cancer—and both are only possible because of advances in genomics.

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Image courtesy Shutterstock

Image courtesy Shutterstock

President Obama’s optimistic language about finally nearing a cure for cancer in this week’s State of the Union address comes at a time when creative approaches are showing more promise than ever. Two major announcements highlight important new opportunities to diagnose and treat cancer—and both are only possible because of advances in genomics. Meanwhile, I continue to hear arguments that genomic efforts have failed to cure disease, from people seemingly ready to write off the whole field. But news like this helps show the real potential to improve healthcare with DNA data.

The first example comes from biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, who has pulled together an unlikely alliance of pharmaceutical companies, academic medical centers, a health insurance company, and even self-insured giant Bank of America to form the National Immunotherapy Coalition, known more colloquially as Cancer Moonshot 2020.

The coalition’s goal is to find combinations of immunotherapies, which trigger a person’s immune system to hunt down and kill cancer cells. These treatments are expected to work better in tandem, and the most successful combinations are unlikely to come from within one pharma company’s portfolio. The group, which includes Amgen, Celgene, and GlaxoSmithKline, among many others, is gearing up to run clinical trials for as many as 20,000 patients across 20 types of cancer by 2020.

Key to the effort is genome sequencing: tumors from every patient will be genetically sequenced, with the information going into a shared registry that will help drug companies select the patients whose cancer profiles fit their trials. (This step represents the growing awareness that a tumor’s genetic makeup, more than its location in the body, determines the best course of treatment.) Amassing this information before trials begin—and making it available to such a broad group of companies—could allow trials to enroll patients faster and less expensively. That step alone would accelerate the completion of clinical trial results, which not only helps companies rapidly test and develop immunotherapy combinations but also gets data into the hands of FDA for review more quickly. We should begin to find new therapies for a variety of different sorts of cancer more rapidly if this alliance succeeds.

In a separate announcement, DNA sequencing leader Illumina said it would spin off a new company called Grail to find cancer cells via blood tests much earlier than tumors can be detected by traditional means. These tests are known as liquid biopsies, and in the cancer community right now it’s hard to swing a cat without hitting someone who’s touting this approach. But Grail has funding from the likes of Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates to the tune of $100 million, so it can hardly be considered “me too.”

We’ve covered this kind of technology before (see here and here for examples). What makes Grail different is its link to Illumina, which means it will have immediate access to the latest sequencing advances long before other liquid biopsy companies. For liquid biopsies, sequence data is critical: the success of the test hinges on being able to identify the tiniest trace of tumor DNA hidden in fields of healthy DNA. This can only be accomplished by detecting the genetic changes characteristic of cancer cells, which requires sequencing enough DNA to allow any tumor DNA to sift out in the analysis. Grail aims to meet that challenge with a test costing no more than $1,000.

Cancer is often the testing ground for new biomedical methods, so it’s not surprising to see the oncology community embracing genomics like this. I think these efforts are strong indicators that far more significant uptake of DNA-based approaches will soon occur in battles against all sorts of diseases.

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CES Afterthoughts from Roger Kay http://techonomy.com/2016/01/ces-afterthoughts-from-roger-kay/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/ces-afterthoughts-from-roger-kay/#respond Tue, 12 Jan 2016 22:24:09 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25709 Entire armies of reporters did an amazing job of capturing the insanity of the CES show in all its glory. Instead, here are a few highlights that struck me, my moments of epiphany. There were three, maybe four. Everyone at the show tries to stand out one way or another, but it’s pretty difficult. There were 170,000 people all seeking attention. I was struck especially by TVs from Samsung and a compelling talk by Ericsson's Hans Vestberg.

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It would be silly of me to try to cover CES in anything like the normal journalistic way. Entire armies of reporters from mainstream and specialty publications did an amazing job of capturing the insanity of the show in all its glory. Instead, let me give here only the highlights that struck me, my few moments of epiphany. There were three, maybe four.

Hubris

Everyone at the show is trying to stand out one way or another, but it’s pretty difficult. There were 170,000 people all seeking attention — anybody’s, but preferably everybody’s. Certainly, the vendors are clear on this point. The non-stop geyser of spam in my mailbox — starting about a month before the show and continuing right up until the Monday after — is testament to their tenacity, even desperation. Of course, I deleted many of them without a glance, those with subject lines about smart smartphone cases and so on, but of those I did read, if I wasn’t able to understand the pitch in the first three paragraphs, it was gone!

The journos and analysts were also guilty of the same infraction, to greater or lesser degrees. A shout out goes to Don Clark of the Wall Street Journal for his amazing and extensive coverage, which mostly lacked irony, despite what I’m sure were many temptations. He seemed to be everywhere at once, although the Journal did have a team helping him out.

Some, however, in the spirit of too much is never enough, put out not-even-disguised humble brags like this:

Pogue tweet for kay

 

 

 

 

 

 

My advice to David Pogue: learn moderation.

Vitality

Wednesday evening, I attended a CEO briefing by Ericsson. After some salutary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, Hans Vestberg held forth for an hour before about 20 analysts. His easy charisma was remarkable. He’s the kind of guy my envy drives me to want to hate. His energy and confidence put most people, certainly me, to shame. He looks like a movie star, dancer’s legs canted at a jaunty angle supporting a robust torso and an amazing head. But instead of the chiseled lines of a model, his features have an amiable softness that invites friendship: everything just right but understated in an incredibly likable way.

Ericsson is in the process of transforming itself from a telephony infrastructure supplier to a more strategic player with offerings higher up the stack in software and services. And in his easy manner, Vestberg talked almost blithely about a net change of personnel in the seven quarters through 3Q15 of only 3,000, a number masking the fact that 28,000 new employees had been taken on and 31,000 had been let go. New employees have joined through acquisitions, managed services deals, and a buildup of global services centers. Many of those leaving come from the old core businesses. It’s all part of the rapid transformation the company is undergoing — while continuing to innovate and make money.

I asked him after the talk how he managed to maintain his energy and loose-jointedness while being responsible for operations in 180 countries that generate $33 billion in revenue. He said, and I’m sure it’s not the first time, “I love it. It’s what I live for.”

His work invigorates him. Ericsson is the only company he has ever worked for. He started in the equivalent of the mail room and worked his way all the way up to the top.

Winning feeds on itself. Victory drives more victories. But behind that virtuous cycle lies the tenacity to stay with it long enough to win.

Sadness

I awoke Thursday morning, the second official day of the show, with a debilitating sadness the likes of which I haven’t experienced in years. I was in my hotel room and could barely move. It was existential, nothing to be done about it really. Something about all the striving in the direction of crass materialism added to whatever personal dramas.

I emerged from my room onto an unusually and blessedly silent hallway (thank you, Treasure Island!), took the elevator down, and braved the eternally noisy casino floor to find a Starbucks. Once back in my room, I nursed my venti cappuccino until I felt I could face the world.

Those of you who know me may be aware that I always rent a bicycle to get around the traffic sclerosis of CES. Being outdoors between meetings — which take place in the hotels on Las Vegas Boulevard as well as at the convention center — is refreshing, and beating the livery cars and cabs is a positive jolt of its own.

Once the meetings started up, I began to pull it together, and by the mid-afternoon I was more or less back in shape — just in time to join a Techonomy round table at Aria. David Kirkpatrick and the W2O Group gathered quite a roomful of notables, including Robert Scoble, Brian Solis, and executives from Intel, HP, and a variety of other companies.

Displays

After all this philosophizing, a product discussion may seem out of place, but the monitors and TVs on the show floor this year were truly amazing.

Samsung, in particular, really blew it away with displays. On show were units even Donald Trump would call “Youge!” The 170″ SUHD TV could be a wall in your home. An 8K display contained four times the number of pixels in 4K, the resolution that’s just going mainstream now. As if that weren’t enough, the company showed large, curved, and incredibly thin TVs, transparent displays, and super-high-contrast monitors. It was a tour de force of technology.

Here are a few pictures of them:

Kay Samsung 3

Kay Samsung 2

Kay samsung 1

Kay Samsung 4

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Post-CES, Four Questions about the Internet of Things http://techonomy.com/2016/01/post-ces-four-questions-about-the-internet-of-things/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/post-ces-four-questions-about-the-internet-of-things/#respond Tue, 12 Jan 2016 16:29:39 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25705 Connected refrigerators, bras that monitor your heart rate, and, of course, autonomous vehicles were the kinds of things CES attendees focused on this year. It now seems inevitable that more or less everything will eventually be connected, and that raises new security, business, and technical questions for manufacturers, network providers, marketers, and consumers– the IoT ecosystem. What a few days scrambling around Las Vegas got me thinking.

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If you watched the television coverage of CES last week, you probably think that all that the attendees talked about were things like connected refrigerators, bras that monitor your heart rate, and, of course, autonomous vehicles.  You wouldn’t be far off. While the past few years have also showcased unique connected devices (a fork in 2014, a toothbrush in 2015, etc.), the Internet of Things definitely dominated this year across all categories from the home to healthcare to automotive.  As we are now at a point where it seems inevitable that more or less everything will eventually be connected, it raises new security, business, and technical questions that will need to be addressed by manufacturers, network providers, marketers, consumers, and everyone participating in the IoT ecosystem. Here are some thoughts generated by a few days at CES.

 

How will IoT will change the relationship between manufacturers, distributors, and consumers?

The North Hall in the Las Vegas Convention Center is where all the automotive manufacturers had big booths filled with shiny objects. During the many connected car conversations there, a big topic was the future of over-the-air software updates.  As cars become big computers on wheels, the state of their software becomes a huge differentiating factor. Tesla is already updating its vehicles’ software over wireless networks, for example recently with their Auto Pilot semi-autonomous mode upgrade. But the Wired article[LINK] about hackers taking control of a Jeep on the highway, has highlighted the potential security risks. Cars that can be updated over the air can potentially be interfered with by hackers. But is security the reason manufacturers will delay over-the-air updates or is it more the pressures emanating from their dealer networks?  Auto dealers, the ones who actually sell you the cars, get paid by the manufacturer to do software updates along with other repairs and maintenance. They also use the time to engage and build their relationship with the consumer.  Like in many industries, if the manufacturer starts to connect directly with the consumer, it begins to disintermediate the middleman–the distributor, retailer, or in this case the car dealer.

 

What are the new businesses and models will leverage the data generated by IoT?

Why should the warranty for a washing machine be based on how long you have owned it, rather than on the number of washes it has performed?  In a world where everything is connected, we will find ways to improve inefficient business models that we previously accepted without question.  Even large-scale farming will be revolutionized by data, predicts Farmers Business Network co-founder Charles Baron, who we met at CES.  By collecting data from connected tractors and combines, combining it with yield and weather data, and correlating that with seed type, chemicals, and anonymized data from other farmers, Farmers Business Network aims to help farmers make more informed decisions and be more profitable.

 

Will interoperability be key to the adoption of IoT in the home?

Two years ago Nest CEO Tony Fadell explained to me a scenario where a Nest carbon monoxide detector is triggered and tells a Nest thermostat to shut off your furnace.  What about turning off a Bosch oven, opening a Lift Master garage door, or communicating to an Canary-connected home monitoring system?  Consumers will derive value from the Internet of Things the more the growing number of devices can communicate and learn from each other.  Although Samsung and others will try to dominate the connected home, open standards and APIs will need to prevail for your car, wearables, and devices from many manufacturers scattered throughout your home to work together.

 

Whose responsibility is it to secure the IoT?

Everyone is talking about security, but it will take everyone from chip manufacturers to software companies to carriers and network providers to address it properly.  Each will play their own role in provisioning and permissioning, or the ability to read and write data.  Why would any user be granted the rights to send a signal that kills a Jeep’s engine while it is moving?  The IoT will only be as secure as the weakest link in the value chain.

Sensors, connectivity, storage, and analytics have enabled us to connect, control, and collect data from increasingly anything we desire.  Technological hurdles will be overcome as the enabling technologies continue to mature and the growth of the Internet of Things will accelerate.  The businesses with the greatest opportunity will be those that understand how to harness the ecosystem, leverage the data, and build innovative business models, while maintaining a highly secure and trusted relationship with its users.

—–

Techonomy’s theme for 2016 is “Man, Machines, and the Network: How the Internet of Things Transforms Business and Society.” It will loom large at our Techonomy 2016 conference Nov. 9-11 in Half Moon Bay, California, and at our Techonomy New York event May 26.

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The Internet of CES Things http://techonomy.com/2016/01/the-internet-of-ces-things/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/the-internet-of-ces-things/#respond Mon, 11 Jan 2016 17:10:47 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25689 CES was a gigantic, if predictable, letdown when it comes to "consumer electronics." Everything seemed incremental. People ask each other "What's the most interesting thing you've seen?" My answer was an announcement not a device--Amazon's deal with Ford to put its Echo "Alexa" technology inside of cars. It was the Internet of Things that loomed large in the background--not to make connected toasters but to transform society with connected efficiency.

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The Amazon Echo that sits in my living room. It is still one of the most important things happening in tech, as CES underscored.

The Amazon Echo that sits in my living room. It is still one of the most important things happening in tech, as CES underscored.

I asked the four Internet-of-things executives on a panel I was moderating how many of their companies used Amazon Web Services for back end functions. All four raised their hands. It was just one of many revelations at the just-completed CES show in Las Vegas about how a sometimes surprising group of companies are gaining strength as the result of society’s quickening pace of interconnection.

Not that Amazon’s ongoing success is in itself any sort of surprise. But add a growing prominence in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem to the assets of the company we still too often think of as just a retailer. By the last days of CES everybody’s always asking each other “What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen?” My answer was an announcement not a device–Amazon’s deal with Ford to put the Echo technology inside of cars.

Amazon’s Echo–one of which sits quite happily in my living room–was one of the few groundbreaking consumer technology products of 2015. After you say the keyword “Alexa” and bring it to life, you can issue commands or ask questions ranging from the weather in Cancun to how old Willie Mays was when he died (it reads from Wikipedia). It will time the steeping of your tea, wake you in the morning, or play the Beatles on its surprisingly good speakers. Alexa taps into Amazon’s own search engine and over time gets smarter. At a CES dinner one of my tablemates described how even though he has a gigantic Sonos music system in his house he now plays most of his music out of Amazon’s Prime Music service via Echo, simply because verbally invoking Alexa is so much easier a way to control it.

The Ford announcement showed just how limited had been my understanding of Echo’s potential. In the near future you’ll be able to ask Alexa from the driver’s seat whether you left your garage door open, or tell it from your living room to start your car. You’ll also be able to get all that other Alexa functionality like music, weather, wikipedia, etc. from the car. This is the first such deal Amazon has made. By liberating Alexa from its original cylindrical Echo container it becomes clear that Amazon is, among other things, turning its vaunted cloud computing capabilities into a control mechanism for a wide range of things–potentially a large swath of the Internet of Things. Echo may be headed towards becoming a sort of ambient intelligence–an information and management service we could utilize in all kinds of places.

CES otherwise was for me a gigantic, if predictable, letdown when it comes to “consumer electronics.” (It used to be called the Consumer Electronics Show.) I found little to excite me on the show floor. Flipping one day through the thick “CES Daily” magazine that arrived on my hotel room doorknob each morning, I saw not a single ad for anything that struck me as groundbreaking. There were plenty of incremental improvements to product categories we all know about. But much of what was there underscored why consumers appear to be losing their excitement about the next big thing in tech. Accenture released a survey of 28,000 consumers in 28 countries just prior to CES. Here’s part of the report summary: “Consumer demand is sluggish across all traditional categories from smartphones and tablets to laptops. Unfortunately, demand for the next generation of devices enabled by the Internet of Things isn’t growing fast enough to offset declines in traditional categories.”

Consumers just haven’t signed up for a connected home. All that IoT stuff seems too hard to manage. Who wants to figure out how to control a blender from an app? The one genuine locus of consumer IoT excitement has been so-called “wearables,” especially fitness measurement tools sold by industry giant Fitbit. It dominates the phenomenon also called “quantified self.”

Fitbit launched an impressive and inexpensive new watch, the Blaze, at CES. It’s not piled full of features, but that may be a virtue. “Smart watches haven’t really taken off because they do too many things,” Fitbit CEO James Park told me and my colleague Josh Kampel over coffee in a cafe tucked away on an upper floor of the mammoth Venetian Hotel. “What do people actually do with a watch? They look at the time, see notifications from their smartphone apps, and see their fitness stats. The whole feature set is focused on fitness. The number of swipes it takes to get fitness data is fewer than on the Apple watch.” The Blaze’s battery lasts several days–a major plus compared to that other product–and will sell for a quite reasonable $199. And it’s not positioned as some kind of luxury item like you-know-who’s watch. But it can control your music, too.

I asked Park how he accounted for Fitbit’s singular success in the consumer Internet of Things. “We’ve always had a focus on simplicity,” he replied. “People are interested in how these devices help them, not in the process of buying them and setting them up.” I know the main reason I’m a longtime user of Fitbit devices, after having tried those from multiple other companies, is that they are easy to use.

For all Fitbit’s impressive progress with the Blaze, its most evolved product yet, Park had a tough week. The company’s stock plunged even more than the broader market. And the week also brought news of a class action lawsuit complaining that the heartrate monitoring on several Fitbit devices was inaccurate.. But Park told those who asked that he was focusing on the company and its products and not the stock price. He seemed relaxed and upbeat when we were together.

What excites me most, in the end, about IoT doesn’t have that much to do with what is showable at CES. It has the potential to bring massive new efficiencies to larger systems of society–traffic monitoring and control, energy and pollution management, food production, and systems that contribute to the collective wellness for entire communities and nations. Measuring what we all do and making better decisions as the result should enable us to build a healthier and happier society. But consumers won’t achieve that on their own. One place you could have heard some talk about that bigger potential was that IoT panel. I’ll tell you more in an upcoming column.

Techonomy’s theme for the entire year 2016 is “Man, Machines, and the Network: How the Internet of Things Transforms Business and Society.” It will figure prominently at our first New York conference May 26 and at Techonomy 2016 on Nov. 9-11 in Half Moon Bay, California.

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Thoughts on the Plane to CES http://techonomy.com/2016/01/thoughts-on-the-plane-to-ces/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/thoughts-on-the-plane-to-ces/#respond Wed, 06 Jan 2016 07:16:09 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25676 Every January just after New Year's, as if to force upon recently idle strivers the urgency of redoubling their labors, converge hundreds of thousands of tech-focused leaders, strategists, inventors, financiers, retailers, and journalists. CES is American tech's biggest trade show, fiesta, business meeting, glad-handing exercise, walking course, and source of both elation and frustration. Says Slava Rubin, CEO of Indiegogo, who we ran into at our hotel's check-in: "CES is one giant networking event."

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IMG_6570As one who organizes conferences and conversations about how technology transforms business and society, I’m acutely conscious of the continuing value of the in-person connection. One might think that the triumph of digital communications systems like Facebook or Skype or FaceTime or even SMS messaging and iChat would have changed the landscape. But CES is its a powerful rebuttal of that notion.

Here, every January just after New Year’s, as if to force upon recently idle strivers the urgency of redoubling their labors, converge hundreds of thousands of tech-focused leaders, strategists, inventors, financiers, retailers, and of course journalists. CES, now just an acronym, has until this year stood for the Consumer Electronics Show. It’s American tech’s biggest trade show, fiesta, business meeting, glad-handing exercise, walking course, and source of both elation and frustration.

Tech, like all other human activities, is ultimately a human activity, and humans want and need to get together with other humans. That they are even more prone than those in most other industries to go to conferences, conventions, meetings, thinkfests, brainstorms, and suchlike is in my opinion one of the secrets to the tech industry’s long-standing energy and steady progress.

Arriving early morning at Newark Airport for my flight to Las Vegas my colleague Josh Kampel and I ran into friends and acquaintances from companies including Conde Nast, Nielsen, Spotify, WebMD, and New York software giant AppNexus in the boarding area and on the plane.

Just about anyone even vaguely connected with tech could quite possibly be found at CES. (When we checked in to our hotel we ran into Slava Rubin, CEO of Indiegogo. I told him about the piece I was writing. “CES is one giant networking event,” he said. “Instead of having to fly all over the country for weeks to meet people, they all come here and you can meet with them in a couple days.”)

Setting up on the show floor.

Setting up on the show floor.

One of the huge issues in Vegas this year, as last, is the growing centrality of the so-called Internet of Things. Devices are what this show is meant to showcase, and while today’s world of tech is increasingly intangible and virtual, the IoT has a lot of T. Such devices connect to the Net and sometimes to each other, generating data that can range from your pulse to the pollen count. But what the IoT is really about is the world entering a true age of interconnection–where data is generated from disparate human activities both by hardware as well as apps and software. The key is that the data goes into the cloud and can add up to better information, decision making and even automated improvements in our health, our environment, our cities, our factories, or all kinds of other things. Techonomy thinks this IoT transition is so important we’re making it the theme of all our activities in 2016, including our main conference in Half Moon Bay, California November 9-11 and our one-day New York event on May 26.

It’s been much commented-upon this year that the auto industry is in Vegas in force. But that’s because tech ain’t what it used to be. Cars, too, are becoming part of the Internet of Things. As they get connected, they are becoming electric and self-driving, over time, and software is increasingly the most differentiated thing about them. Apple, Google, Lyft, Tesla, and Uber–all ostensible “tech” companies in Wall Street parlance–are careening into an industry that’s increasingly being rethought. GM this week invested $500 million in Lyft, and last night on the Bloomberg West TV show, GM President Daniel Ammann spoke about how the two companies will together work to address “consuming mobility.” That’s not your mother’s GM.

Meanwhile Ford, a company that has talked about itself as not just a carmaker but also a “mobility provider” for some time, reportedly is working with Google. It has all kinds of software and alliance-related announcements up its sleeve this week. (One biggie was an agreement with Amazon to take the Echo software out of the living room and put it in Ford vehicles soon: “Alexa–turn on the windshield wipers.”) The automaker’s F-150 pickup includes more than 150 million lines of software code, so these are now truly mobile computers on wheels.

Along with obvious eminences like Salesforce’s Marc Benioff or Fitbit’s James Park or IBM’s Ginni Rometty, smart executives from every industry flock here if they’ve figured out that what they do will be profoundly altered by connectivity, smartphones, apps, and software. Last year Josh and I spoke with leaders from JP Morgan Chase and Kraft, for instance, and this year we’re lunching with a bunch of senior execs from GE. These are the smart ones. I challenge readers to name an industry that won’t confront massive tech-driven change in coming years. That’s why I am increasingly uncomfortable even speaking about a “tech” industry–tech is becoming an integral part of every industry.

Maybe the influx of executives from companies in other industries will dilute one of the funny ironies of CES. The geeks in the crowd generally don’t care much about gambling. Drinking and partying still gets a lot of attention, of course. Sleep is generally not a major priority.

Everybody spends three days or so struggling to make it on time to appointments spread over a city with virtually-nonexistent public transportation and quasi-gridlock during this massive influx. Whatever hardware, software, service or idea we’re flogging, we leave with tons of new connections and sore calfs. And then we get ready to go to the next conference.

When we finally got to Vegas, it was raining...

When we finally got to Vegas, it was raining…

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When Moore Is Not Enough – Why Our Growing Networks Require More Software http://techonomy.com/2016/01/when-moore-is-not-enough-why-our-growing-networks-require-more-software/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/when-moore-is-not-enough-why-our-growing-networks-require-more-software/#respond Tue, 05 Jan 2016 03:47:42 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25666 The demand for communications bandwidth is expanding faster each year. We’re entering a stage where just Moore’s Law and faster and cheaper computing power will simply not be enough. The networks themselves need to become programmable platforms. The infrastructure needs to be as real-time, flexible and dynamic as our smartphones have become. Today software can scale up or down networks to meet user demands.

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Image courtesy Shutterstock

Image courtesy Shutterstock

It’s been 50 years since Gordon Moore came up with what’s now known as “Moore’s Law” and since then we’ve seen some of the greatest technological achievements in history. But we’ve hit an inflection point. The demand for communications bandwidth is expanding faster and faster each year, and we’re entering a stage where just Moore’s Law and faster and cheaper computing power will simply not be enough.

Moore’s Law is based on Gordon Moore’s 1965 prediction that the number of components on integrated circuits could be expected to double without increasing in cost approximately every two years. This idea has been setting the trajectory of silicon integrated circuit technology, computer processing speed and power for decades. For many of us in technology today, Moore’s Law represents a prediction that has been accurate for longer than many of us have been alive.

It explains why, today, we can hold something in our hands with more computing power than the computers that guided Apollo 11’s astronauts to the moon. Our desktop machines now contain more processing power than what we used to call a “supercomputer.” It was Moore’s Law that predicted that digital signal processing would finally catch up to what we needed to enable high-capacity coherent optical communication enabling 100G to become the unit of currency for present day networks.

The problem now lies with our continued reliance on primarily hardware-based improvements to drive additional bandwidth. Hardware-based solutions generally improve at the pace Moore predicted. Meanwhile, Gartner has recently predicted that global mobile data traffic will reach 52 million terabytes in 2015, an increase of nearly 60 percent over 2014.

The value of the Internet scales with the number of connected users, according to Metcalfe’s Law (named for networking pioneer Bob Metcalfe), and we are all readying ourselves for the Internet of Things, where almost everything that can be controlled or observed will be connected to a network. We have some early sense of what future bandwidth demands may be, but what awaits us in the IoT era will likely blow many of our projections out of the water.

So if our hardware capabilities can only double every two years, we need to find new tools that enable us to keep up with growth in demand.

The path forward requires that the bandwidth our networks provide becomes smarter. The networks themselves need to become programmable platforms. The infrastructure needs to be as real-time, flexible and dynamic as our smartphones have become. The answer to the problem of increased demand on the network is to flip that phrase around and evolve to what can be called network-on-demand. Network topology, connectivity, service class and quality of service all need to be on-demand services that can be customized to suit the needs of the end user.

The networking paradigm must change from one where we simply provision a connection and then sit back and monitor it to one where we are orchestrating and controlling the network and its associated applications and services in real-time.

A greater use of software is the key. We can take some examples from the computer industry. As the limits of processing speed were reached, individual processors saturated and we began doing more things in parallel, building machines that deployed arrays of simultaneous chips working together to solve problems. Consequently, software has evolved to operate across these so-called multiple-core architectures in order to achieve better performance. This same idea –leveraging software in parallel with hardware – needs to be applied when it comes to mapping our network architectures.

This is an exciting time to be in networking. With the advent of Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV), the network is no longer just a series of siloed pieces of hardware; the software is coming together now to enable programmable solutions that allow us to leap ahead of the pace of Moore’s Law.

Today’s increasingly software-enabled solutions, when properly combined with orchestration, become readily scalable, easily upgradable and much less expensive than the hardware-limited methods we currently rely on. Today, we can see a path to virtualize many of our network functions, replacing dedicated hardware-centric appliances with software equivalents that can be deployed at the click of a mouse. We can program software to scale up or down networks to meet the demands of an end user.

Hardware can only practically move at the pace that Moore’s Law predicted, but our networks must now move even faster. The growth in connectivity and the need for bandwidth won’t allow us to wait for Moore’s law to deliver. Bandwidth must become smart, and SDN,NFV, and Network Orchestration are the keys.

Steve Alexander is CTO of Ciena Corporation.

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The Facebook Pushback in India: Anti-Corporate, Anti-American, Anti-Poor http://techonomy.com/2016/01/the-facebook-pushback-in-india-anti-corporate-anti-american-anti-poor/ http://techonomy.com/2016/01/the-facebook-pushback-in-india-anti-corporate-anti-american-anti-poor/#respond Sun, 03 Jan 2016 21:20:51 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25648 There's huge controversy in India over Facebook's "Free Basics" Internet plan, part of the global Internet.org initiative the company has been spearheading. Facebook's aim, it says, is to get more people onto the Internet, since being online is essential for participation in any modern economy. In India, however, the project is encountering fierce resistance from elites who say it violates "net neutrality." But do all the critics--mostly upper-class and affluent Indian pundits, professors and anti-corporate activists--have a better way to get many millions of less-privileged Indians onto the Internet?

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When Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg puts on a tie you know he’s serious. And he is about Internet.org and Facebook in  India. He hosted Indian Prime Minister Modi at Facebook in September 2015. (Photo courtesy Facebook)

Do all these elite and generally upper-class and affluent Indian pundits, professors and anti-corporate activists have a better way to get many millions of less-privileged Indians onto the Internet?

 

I returned recently to my New York apartment from an appearance on Bloomberg TV’s morning show, Bloomberg Go. I had talked on air about the controversy in India over Facebook’s “Free Basics” Internet plan, part of the global Internet.org initiative the company has been spearheading for the last couple years. Then, staring at my computer as usual, I decided I needed new razors. So I signed up to try a “shave plan” from startup Harry’s, which has made waves challenging Gillette with less expensive but stylish products served up online. Harry’s offered a free trial with a razor and three blades, so it was a no-brainer.

Facebook’s aim, it says, it to get more people onto the Internet, since being online is essential for participation in any modern economy. Free Basics gives away data to otherwise disconnected people so they can go online for free to a limited group of services including Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Wikipedia, weather information, and a few other apps. These are typically people of limited means who otherwise barely know what the Internet is. The idea is that giving them a free taste of the Net will lead them to like it and decide eventually to pay Facebook’s mobile carrier partner for a data plan, bringing them into the Internet ecosystem. Facebook shows them no ads and makes no money from the transaction. It only spends money making this all happen.

In India, however, the project is encountering fierce resistance, so much so that voices in Facebook’s defense are hard to find. Responding to the growing outcry, the country’s telecom regulators have suspended the participation of wireless carrier Reliance, Facebook’s Indian partner, pending a formal decision in early January on whether Free Basics is legal.

Many opinion pieces have been published in Indian newspapers opposing the plan. About 50 Indian IT professors have written a statement in opposition. There are many supposed arguments against Free Basics, but the most popular is to invoke “net neutrality,” a fuzzy concept that is mostly in the eyes of the beholder. To the degree net neutrality has a definition, it refers to an Internet access provider taking measures to give special advantage to certain content in an anticompetitive way.

The plan’s opponents want Facebook to suspend its plan (which is already operating, generally with little controversy, in 36 other countries from Angola to Vanuatu). In sum, their argument is that the company shouldn’t give anything away for free unless it gives everything away for free. The Internet is not the Internet unless it is the whole Internet, they say. And so, it would be better if Facebook gave away nothing. Coming from commentators who have so much, that sounds to me like elitism.

One even took an Alice in Wonderland down-is-up point of view earlier this year, writing that the program is “denying the wonder and the width of the internet to the young and knowledge-hungry.” Mahesh Murthy’s piece actually accused Facebook of “economic racism.” Some U.S. writers have piled on as well, including Alice Truong at Quartz, who recently called Free Basics“discriminatory,” and “poor Internet for poor people.”

The politically-correct thing in India is apparently to say that big bad Facebook is an American imperialist, bent on subjecting our hapless citizens to its dictates. The whole thing has a strong odor of anti-capitalist, anti-corporate, and anti-American bias. Those professors even wrote in their statement that “allowing a private entity…to control what content costs” is “lethal.” Wait a minute–can’t companies control their own pricing? Aren’t “free trials” a long-standing tradition in business?

Which brings me to my non-purchase of razors from Harry’s. Would the anti-Free Basics crew in India argue that Harry’s shouldn’t have the right to give me such an offer? Is it wrong for a car dealer to let me go out for a spin before I decide whether or not to buy? Are magazine trial subscriptions wrong?

Or perhaps the argument really is that Facebook is just too big, and a corporate giant shouldn’t have the right to use its vast resources for its own benefit. At least that argument would be understandable. But it would be profoundly anti-capitalist.

Facebook got big because it figured out how to build a core service that human beings like–connecting to one another. I wrote about this in great detail in The Facebook Effect, my history of the company. Now over 1.5 billion people have decided they like that service.

Yes, Facebook is a giant corporation. It has tons of money. And there is no question that if Free Basics succeeds in getting many millions of new Internet users online then Facebook can potentially benefit by acquiring them as customers and making money by showing them ads.

But Mark Zuckerberg is not only a uniquely-successful businessman and corporate strategist. He is someone who thinks what he is doing is good for people. There is nothing wrong with a company aiming not only to make money but also to make a positive difference. And this one has that aim as much as any big company I’ve ever seen. It seems to me that the entire Internet.org program is driven as much by idealism as by corporate self-interest. As Zuckerberg told mewhen he was first talking publicly about Internet.org back in 2014, “If we can connect everybody in the world—will that be good for Facebook? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t also good for other people.” This week he wrote a controversial defense of Free Basics in The Times of India, explaining the many reasons he thinks his project is an unalloyed good. Perhaps, given the breadth of local opposition, it was imprudent for him to ask, “Who could possibly be against this?”

But in my view Free Basics is a fine example of what many call “doing well by doing good.” There is nothing wrong with being in business. There is nothing wrong with a business trying to acquire new customers. There is nothing wrong with offering something for free that you might charge for later. And however ruefully people elsewhere sometimes view it, there’s nothing wrong with Facebook being an American company operating successfully around the world.

Do all these elite and generally upper-class and affluent Indian pundits, professors and anti-corporate activists have a better way to get many millions of less-privileged Indians onto the Internet? If they don’t, their arguments are hollow. It’s hard to understand why Facebook shouldn’t be able to subsidize new customers’ entrance into the contemporary world of information power. For the poor, the opponents’ arguments add up to literally nothing. That’s what those people would get without Free Basics. But then, that’s what such people have had in India for millenia.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn, where by early January it had garnered 251 comments, many of them from Indians outraged by Facebook’s plans..

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The Three Best Digital Health Books of 2015 http://techonomy.com/2015/12/the-three-best-digital-health-books-of-2015/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/the-three-best-digital-health-books-of-2015/#respond Thu, 31 Dec 2015 21:19:51 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25639 As new technologies continue to drive rapid change in the practice and business of healthcare, keeping up with the latest developments can be difficult. Fortunately, several great books on this topic were published in 2015. As a digital health entrepreneur, I found the following three particularly valuable: The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Eric Topol; The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age by Robert Wachter; and Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith.

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Here are three great books on the future of healthcare published in 2015. (image courtesy Shutterstock)

Here are three great books on the future of healthcare published in 2015. (image courtesy Shutterstock)

As new technologies continue to drive rapid change in the practice and business of healthcare, keeping up with the latest developments can be difficult. Fortunately, several great books on this topic were published in 2015. As a digital health entrepreneur, I found the following three particularly valuable.

The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands by Eric Topol

Connected devices are proliferating around the world, and people everywhere have greater access to healthcare information and services than ever. Eric Topol, a cardiologist and geneticist who directs the Scripps Translational Research Institute, believes soaring connectivity will bring about a new era of patient empowerment. In The Patient Will See You Now, he predicts the end of “medical paternalism,” his term for the current paradigm in which healthcare professionals act as the primary gatekeepers of knowledge and care.

Topol spends much of the book describing the new technologies and services that will drive this change. He regards widespread use of these tools as inevitable, but points to ongoing resistance in many domains. For instance, patients still face obstacles to accessing personal genomic data, an issue that Techonomy contributor Meredith Salisbury has covered extensively in these pages over the past year.

Some regard Topol as deluded about digital health and excessively dismissive of the regulators and physicians who are trying to protect patient safety in our connected age. But whether or not you share his worldview, his book presents a broad and engaging overview of the many digital health trends unfolding today.

The Digital Doctor: Hope, Hype, and Harm at the Dawn of Medicine’s Computer Age by Robert Wachter

New IT systems hold enormous potential to improve healthcare, but many clinicians still struggle to use them. The Digital Doctor by Robert Wachter, a prominent academic physician on the faculty of UCSF, shows how these systems promise better safeguards and efficiencies in clinical care, but often have drawbacks and unintended consequences.

Wachter draws on rich personal experience to demonstrate why so many clinicians loathe the IT systems that are supposed to make their work easier and more effective. A common complaint is that they saddle clinicians with administrative burdens that interfere with patient care. They also threaten to alter traditional patterns of professional collaboration. Radiologists, for instance, used to have regular visits with colleagues in other departments, but are increasingly isolated in digital darkrooms, resulting in reduced job satisfaction and missed opportunities for knowledge sharing.

Wachter also looks at the economic and regulatory factors that spurred health IT in recent years, implying that skewed incentives led to rapid adoption of inferior products. He anticipates that there will be more growing pains as the industry matures and clinicians adjust to new systems, but remains optimistic about the ultimate potential of IT to improve patient care.

Epic Measures: One Doctor. Seven Billion Patients. by Jeremy N. Smith

Although not about digital health in a conventional sense, journalist Jeremy N. Smith’s latest book tells the story of Chris Murray, a physician who spearheaded the world’s most comprehensive effort to collect and analyze global health data. Murray still leads this effort as director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), a research institute at the University of Washington. His work leverages emerging capabilities in data collection and analytics, and makes global health policymaking more efficient.

In July 2015, I interviewed Murray for an article on big data and global health, where I argued that data gaps present an ongoing challenge to identifying and addressing the world’s healthcare problems. He shared some exciting examples of how IHME was addressing these gaps. Through powerful software and clever methods of estimating health risk factors, such as using satellite imagery to measure air pollution in countries that don’t report it, his organization produces comprehensive global data on disease incidence and burden.

Achieving this feat was no cakewalk. Smith’s book traces the many challenges that Murray and his colleagues faced along the way, from broken commitments by prospective funders to institutional politics at the global health organizations they were trying to serve. Yet after years of hard work and persistence, IHME now plays a deeply influential role in global health policymaking. Its data and research guides billions of dollars of healthcare spending each year.

What other great books on digital health came out last year? Feel free to comment or tweet me your thoughts.

Will Greene is Chief Digital Officer of mClinica, a Singapore-based health data and analytics company serving Asia’s emerging markets. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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Unfazedly Optimistic Holiday Greetings! http://techonomy.com/2015/12/unfazedly-optimistic-holiday-greetings/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/unfazedly-optimistic-holiday-greetings/#respond Sun, 27 Dec 2015 20:18:30 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25590 And so another year ends–with stunning speed and with surprising and slightly disturbing warmth here in New York. Techonomy wishes you happy and merry and a new year of continued optimism, despite the mood of the moment. Here are some thoughts about the kind of world we can collectively create, worth keeping in mind as a new year dawns amidst escalating short-sighted rhetoric and much distraction.

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Illustration by Clara Kirkpatrick

Illustration by Clara Kirkpatrick

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And so another year ends–with stunning speed and with surprising and slightly disturbing warmth here in New York. Techonomy wishes you happy and merry and a new year of continued optimism, despite the mood of the moment.

We published our magazine recently. Here are some thoughts from our short opening note, worth keeping in mind as a new year dawns amidst escalating short-sighted rhetoric and much distraction:

What motivates us at Techonomy? Why is what we do uniquely necessary, when every magazine has a conference and every journalist seems to want to write about tech? Because despite all the febrile hype about startups, unicorns, billionaires, IPOs, and iPhones, we all need more understanding about what life really can be like in a tech-driven future.

We see business as Earth’s best hope for progress. But nearly every company is struggling to accommodate today’s realities–headlong industrial transformation, with established businesses paralyzed by the need to change even as many startups seem focused only on a quick hit.

Our moment is one of too much fear and not enough hope and confidence in the capacity of mankind, empowered by tech, to accomplish miraculous feats. With a planet straining at the seams, with five billion people still dramatically deprived compared to the affluent few, the prospects are not good unless we step up our game. At Techonomy we know tech can unite us, enlighten us, and help us all live longer, happier, friendlier, more hopeful lives. That is what gets us up in the morning.

We want to help more people develop faith that a better world is possible. We all need to focus harder on how tech, and our own commitment, can help achieve it.

 

 

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Techonomy’s Top Articles for 2015 http://techonomy.com/2015/12/techonomys-top-articles-for-2015/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/techonomys-top-articles-for-2015/#respond Wed, 23 Dec 2015 16:15:37 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25625 At Techonomy we put on conferences and publish articles and videos. Our most popular articles this year tackled the conceptual problem with the Apple Watch, the Human side of the Internet of Things, how consumer genomics empowers consumers, tech and artificial intelligence progress in Ethiopia, and the need for the biotech industry to step up its game in communicating to the general public. It's a good flavor of the range of issues and topics that fascinate and motivate us. Keep with us in 2016 for much much more!

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As we look back on 2015, we’re grateful for another impactful year at Techonomy. Through our conferences and publications, we explored how technology is changing a dizzying array of fields. We’re thankful for all the contributors, speakers, partners, and friends who made this possible. Of the hundreds of stories we published this year, here are the five that saw the widest reach:

Why The “Luxury” of Apple’s Watch is Besides the Point by David Kirkpatrick

As its launch approached in April 2015, media coverage of the Apple Watch and its progenitor Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, focused heavily on the product’s aesthetic qualities. Articles placed by the company in publications like The New Yorker emphasized peripheral design features like the box it comes in, the price point of higher-end models that can run well into five-figures, and and Ive’s own rarefied and genuinely luxurious habits. Yet he and the company conveyed little about the watch’s functional necessity for regular consumers—a fact that Techonomy CEO David Kirkpatrick found annoying and worrisome in this popular essay.

Apple’s amazing success, Kirkpatrick argued, arises from its ability to produce state-of-the-art technology at a cost affordable to large numbers of people. By positioning a key new product for consumers “on the wrong side of the world’s inequality divide,” Apple seemed to be taking a dangerous detour from that mission. Kirkpatrick’s concerns clearly struck a chord—when published on LinkedIn his piece pulled nearly half a million views.

 

How the Internet of Things Can Enhance Human Relationships by John Hagel and John Seeley Brown

John Hagel on stage at Techonomy 2015, speaking about how business can learn from social movements. He co-wrote one of the year's most popular articles, about the human side of the Internet of Things.

John Hagel on stage at Techonomy 2015, speaking about how business can learn from social movements. He co-wrote one of the year’s most popular articles, about the human side of the Internet of Things.

The “Internet of Things” (IoT) might sound like a cold and inanimate place, where machines talk to other machines in languages only geeks can understand. Yet longtime Techonomy contributors John Hagel and John Seeley Brown argue that the IoT will actually enhance human relationships by automating life’s busywork and freeing up time for meaningful interaction between people. It will also produce volumes of data that will allow us to better understand and serve our friends, partners, and customers.

As a growing number of consumer and enterprise systems become interconnected, companies and organizations with the technical capability to tap into it will be at a major advantage. But as Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff noted in an illuminating closing panel session at Techonomy 2015, the ultimate winners will be those companies that aggressively use the IoT to serve their customers, not just to save money or achieve cold efficiencies. The opportunities to do so will be legion.

At Techonomy, we are increasingly convinced of the importance of this increasing interconnection of everything. That’s is why both our major events in 2016–in New York on May 26 and Half Moon Bay California November 9-11–will focus on Man, Machines and the Network: How the Internet of Things is Transforming Business and Society.

 

Are 23andMe Customers Suckers or Empowered Consumers? by Meredith Salisbury

Many digital health companies offer free or discounted services in exchange for customer data. While some view this as sinister, Techonomy’s resident genomics expert Meredith Salisbury argued in this article and several others published during the year that more data sharing can lead to a healthier world. And with informed consent, she thinks patients will happily join research programs that can lead to better diagnostics, treatments, and public health interventions.

In making this point, Salisbury came to the defense of 23andMe, a consumer genomics company that has been a lightning rod for privacy scaremongers and a target for the FDA. Responding to criticisms of the company’s recent deals with Pfizer and Genentech, she argued that 23andMe has been plenty transparent about its data usage policies. Perhaps its customers deserve praise for voluntarily contributing data to research programs that will benefit us all.

 

Artificial Intelligence Catches Fire in Ethiopia by Christina Galbraith

Although still racked by poverty and unrest, Ethiopia has emerged as a thriving African hub for tech enterprise, reported science writer Christina Galbraith. In efforts driven heavily by large government projects, the country has a buzzing cluster of technical schools and software parks. It is home to over 700 computer tech companies, including a surprising number focused on artificial intelligence and robotics.

Ethiopia is one of many emerging countries that have seized on tech as a key to development. Vietnam, for example, also has a burgeoning tech sector that is driving opportunity for its 90 million people. Galbraith rightly notes that tech is not a silver bullet for underdevelopment, but there’s no denying that it allows people everywhere increasingly to participate in the global information economy.

 

Ubiquitous Biotech in a Time of Ignorance by Ryan Bethencourt

Despite lingering public distrust of life sciences companies, we may be at the cusp of a golden age of biotech innovation, reported Indie.Bio’s Ryan Bethencourt. With biotech research and early-stage companies attracting massive investment, new discoveries are emerging in a range of sectors, from clinical therapeutics to industrial biomaterials. And as growing connectivity puts the fruits of biotech research in the hands of ever more people, wider participation holds the potential to accelerate progress.

Yet to realize that full potential, the biotech industry needs concerted and thoughtful communications campaigns. Otherwise, we run the risk of public backlash against transformative opportunities that are not widely understood, Bethencourt believes. Bethencourt further explored this challenge in a sobering panel at our Bio conference in March 2015, where he also spoke in a session about the “can of miracles” that biotech innovation will soon unleash.

Will Greene is a digital health entrepreneur and frequent contributor to Techonomy. You can find him on LinkedIn.

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Welcome to the Splinternet http://techonomy.com/2015/12/welcome-to-the-splinternet/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/welcome-to-the-splinternet/#respond Tue, 22 Dec 2015 22:47:38 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25613 Donald Trump has referred to "closing" the Internet in areas where the U.S. has enemies, while China's president, Xi Jinping, reasserted last week that each state has a sovereign right to control what its citizens can and can't do in cyberspace. Russia believes a state should control "its" Internet. A European Union regulation determines how non-EU companies can market to or monitor EU individuals. That four such distinct political cultures could all reach the same conclusion suggests that the days of a universal Internet are numbered. Read more at The World Post

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This article was originally published at The World Post

“We underscore the importance of respect for nations’ sovereignty in cyberspace” –World Internet Conference final document (the “Wuzhen Initiative”), Dec. 18, 2015

The Internet is edging closer to the Splinternet. The leading Republican candidate for U.S. president, Donald Trump, has referred to “closing” the Internet in areas where the U.S. has enemies, while China’s president, Xi Jinping, reasserted, at the second World Internet Conference (WIC) in China last week, that each state has a sovereign right to control what its citizens can and can’t do in cyberspace. The control by a state of “its” Internet has long been advocated by Russia’s government, while the European Union, following an October decision by the European Court of Justice, has released a General Data Protection Regulation that will determine how non-EU companies can market to or monitor EU individuals. That four such distinct political cultures could, for a mix of political, ethical, commercial and security reasons, all reach the same conclusion — that the map of the political world should become the map of cyberspace  — suggests that the days of a universal Internet are numbered.

This political backlash against cyberfreedom has been a long time coming, but given the national-security roots of computing it was probably inevitable.

The Internet, and much of digital computing, was in essence an American military project, born of the need to anticipate and quickly respond to long-range attack, first from large ships, then long-range aircraft and eventually missiles. In the 1980s, under the umbrella of U.S. military and economic superiority, the technology of linked computers began to pass from the Defense Department to the National Science Foundation (and eventually the Commerce Department) and from the state to private companies, a process that led, in the optimistic post-Cold War years of the 1990s, to the extraordinary achievement of a World Wide Web accessible — anonymously, at first — by anyone with a computer.

This was at once a result of globalization, an instigator of it, and a metaphor for it: free, borderless space.

But it was also dependent on the United States disinterestedly holding the keys to cyberspace on behalf of the rest of the world. That kind of benign hegemony was fragile and did not last beyond the idyll that began in 1989 and ended in 2001. Writing in the new issue of Foreign Affairs, Henry Farrell and Abraham Newman state emphatically: “In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the United States began to exploit interdependence, deliberately using its economic power as an instrument of national security. … Despite publicly promoting an open and secure Internet, it has privately undermined the encryption of online communications and surreptitiously created vast international surveillance systems in cooperation with close allies.”

The reaction of other states to this has been slow, in proportion to their dependence on the U.S. economy and on the American-made (mostly) technology that has underpinned the astonishing global prosperity of the past 25 years. But the reaction has nonetheless occurred, hurried on by the revelations of Edward Snowden. Non-Americans no longer trust the U.S. to put its national interests to one side in the special case of the Internet, nor do they want to have to rely, for their prosperity and even safety, on the altruism and political independence of American technology companies. Americans, similarly, don’t want to accept that 21st-century technological life has to come at the price of total vulnerability to surveillance, nor do they want American technology companies to maintain open global networks at the price of their own personal security. Recent calls for blocking terrorists from posting on social media — from Hillary Clinton, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Eric Schmidt — reflect a growing American conviction that the state’s responsibility to protect its citizens should extend to restrictions on cyber speech.

What Xi Jinping calls “Internet sovereignty” is inching forward on many fronts. The first and most important is the insistence that technology companies obey state laws within state borders, including laws on information extraction and sharing and on permissible speech. States increasingly also insist that technology companies cooperate with their own law enforcement or other security agencies in sharing information about possible criminals and political enemies, or even make it possible for these agencies to access such information themselves.  In this sense, the FBI and security agencies in authoritarian countries have been asking for the same thing, they just have different definitions of illegal activity. China, in U.S. Naval War College professor Peter Dombrowski’s bleak assessment, “simply represents an extreme example of a much wider phenomenon.”

The chief obstacles to such surveillance are multinational technology companies, who see a threat to their business models: having to deal with a different regulatory regime (much less locating physical servers) in each country adds considerable cost; more profoundly, consumers can be expected to interact less enthusiastically online if they feel vulnerable. That is why Silicon Valley has been so insistent on protecting encryption.

But while state-led localization appears as an unwanted business cost to a multinational, it can look like an opportunity to local entrepreneurs. States with the necessary resources can back captive companies that will do their bidding, thus “nationalizing” the commercial Internet space. Importantly, this then increases the regional power of major states, whose national Web champions can use their advantages to control Internet services for neighboring, smaller countries as well, bringing the terrestrial concept of spheres of influence into cyberspace.

The second front for asserting Internet sovereignty is international, in organizational settings like the International Telecommunications Union and the United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), which had its first decennial review in New York last week. The (non-binding) outcome of that review was a document that, reportedly at Chinese urging, introduced the words “multilateral” and “governments” at several junctures in order to establish the role of individual states in Internet governance, as in “we recognize the leading role for governments in cybersecurity matters relating to national security” and “we call on Member States to intensify efforts to build robust domestic security of and in the use of ICTs [information and communications technologies], consistent with their international obligations and domestic law,” and in reference to “governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities, and all other relevant stakeholders.”

Ever since the U.S. government began to loosen state control of the Internet in the mid-1990s, other governments, particularly those of Russia and China, have wanted to increase it. The U.S., in sometimes uneasy alliance with the amorphous Internet community (“civil society…the technical and academic communities, and all other relevant stakeholders”), has resisted what it calls government “capture.”

But how long will that resistance last?

The Internet at its core is still administered under contract to the U.S. Commerce Department. The contractor is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which, per the contract, provides “the services necessary for the operation of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).” The Internet’s technology as such — the system of protocols by which machines can talk to each other — is open and replicable.  The only “proprietary” part is the names (rendered as numbers) that give a minimal global structure to the Internet’s information. Those names and numbers are the province of IANA and ICANN. Any body that controls access to the Internet — most importantly, telecommunications companies — can block a machine from being able to reach information at a particular numerical address. That is how a government can block access to a website.  But a government cannot eliminate the number itself.  IANA protects the numbers.

The IANA contract was set for expiry on September 30, 2015, but the U.S. elected to renew the Commerce Department’s ultimate control of IANA for another year. The contract itself has options that enable renewal through to 2019. In theory, it is not beyond imagining that the U.S. would renew the contract indefinitely; after all, it has been 20 years now since the U.S. first promised an eventual relinquishing of Internet control and it still hasn’t happened.  However, there is significant momentum and pressure within the world of “governments, the private sector, civil society, international organizations, the technical and academic communities, and all other relevant stakeholders” to have the U.S. cut the IANA cord.

An interesting comparison can be made to the global positioning system (GPS), which is ultimately under control of the U.S. Department of Defense through the Air Force. Like the Internet, GPS is a service used around the world.  And as with the Internet, major states have chafed at American control of it. The result is that Russia, China, India and the European Union are developing their own versions to eliminate their dependence on the U.S.

They have not done that with the Internet in part because the Internet does not go quite so directly to the deep security interest involved in knowing that your command and control of military force projection can withstand a confrontation with the United States.  GPS does: a modern military cannot travel far without satellite positioning.

A further reason why there are not many Internets is that the Internet community in effect allows government control of the Internet at the edges — for example, though blocking websites — in exchange for non-interference at the core. That is the fundamental bargain of IANA and ICANN.

As the government of China made clear at its World Internet Conference, held as a kind of counterpoint to the WSIS review in New York, it intends to continue to pursue national-sovereignty powers in cyberspace, or what Nathan Gardels wittily calls “cyberspace with Chinese characteristics”. (The prime minister of Russia was the other major-power attendee at the WIC.) And the WSIS outcome document contained a profusion of references to national laws and notably to the struggle against terrorism.

So the outlines of an emerging compromise present themselves: governments will feel free to assert greater control over their citizens’ cyber lives while maintaining a watchful distance from the Internet’s core functioning.  Technically the Internet will remain universal; practically, it will be subject to increasing government control. Governments will no longer have to contest vestigial American control of the Internet core because they will already, in terms of what really matters to them, have the Internet they want.

Scott Malcomson is a political-risk and communications consultant and author of five books, including the forthcoming “Splinternet: How Geopolitics and Commerce Are Fragmenting the World Wide Web.” 

Read more at The World Post

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Rock Stars of Tech http://techonomy.com/2015/12/rock-stars-of-tech/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/rock-stars-of-tech/#respond Tue, 22 Dec 2015 22:03:48 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25600 Standing in a dark club during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, among CEOs and political leaders, we all wait for The Killers to take the stage. I strike up a conversation with the person who just happens to be standing on my left–cultural icon and music superstar will.i.am. He shows me a device he's wearing, a sort of watch being developed by a company he started called i.am+. I can see how proud he is of it. He walks me through the functions, highlighting the user interface and how you can connect to the Internet without needing a phone. He pauses, looking for an indication of my thoughts. He's just one of a number of music industry veterans now finding their way into tech.

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Linkin Park are not just a hugely successful rock band–they're also tech investors and advocates of business innovation. (photo courtesy Linkin Park)

Linkin Park is not just a hugely successful rock band–its members are also tech investors and advocates of business innovation. (photo courtesy Linkin Park)

This article was originally published in Techonomy’s print and digital magazine.

The relationship between the music and tech industries has long been tumultuous. Technology has simplified the recording, distribution, and marketing of music. But it has also enabled rampant theft of songs and encouraged new business models that make it harder for artists and their labels to make money. It’s certainly gotten the music industry’s attention. Having spent more than six years in that business before making my transition into tech and media, I have become obsessed not only with how music has been transformed but also with the similarities between the two communities.

Now more and more music industry veterans are finding their way into tech. Ten years ago, U2 lead singer Bono joined tech investors Roger McNamee and Marc Bodnick to form Elevation Partners. They have made a bunch of investments, including in Palm Computing, and had a big hit when they invested early in Facebook. Then, of course, there’s Dr. Dre and music executive Jimmy Iovine. They launched Beats and made it huge before selling it to Apple. Jay Z has the Tidal streaming music service and Neil Young the Pono high-fidelity music player.

The prospect of riches has likely been a big motivator for all these people. But many of the personality traits that made them successful in music seem to translate directly into tech. I’ve had a few personal encounters recently that underscore the growing overlap between these two highly-creative arenas of business.

Standing in a dark club during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, among CEOs and political leaders is kind of surreal. While we all wait for The Killers to take the stage, I look to my left and strike up a conversation with the person who just happens to be standing there–cultural icon and music superstar will.i.am. I had heard him earlier in the day speaking on a session hosted by Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff that also included business titans Marissa Mayer of Yahoo, Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, and Microsoft’s Satya Nadella. will.i.am’s comments were very “Techonomic,” focusing on the impact of tech on the developing world. But he also slipped in a little promotion of a device he was wearing, a sort of watch, being developed by a company he started called i.am+.

In the club he shows me a prototype of this “smart cuff,” as he calls it, and I can see how proud he is of it. He walks me through some of the functions, highlighting the user interface and how you can connect to the Internet without needing a phone. He pauses, looking for an indication of my thoughts. It feels like an artist playing me a demo for the first time, something I experienced a lot when I worked as a manager. will.i.am tells me his celebrity is being used to promote other products from other companies, so why shouldn’t he have his own? But this doesn’t feel like just a vanity project. It is clearly something he’s passionate about. The device still hasn’t hit the market, so it’s hard to say how it will fare. The critics thus far have been brutal, but artists are not strangers to media scrutiny, right?

In the midst of a group of tech entrepreneurs at a conference in Las Vegas, I run into a couple guys clad in the familiar tech uniform of jeans and untucked button down shirts. They blend in seamlessly with the rest of the pack. I ask about the company listed on their conference badge, Machine Shop Ventures. They start off with, “Well, we’re in a band…” and it’s déjà vu to my experiences in Los Angeles, where almost everyone I met said they were in a band. But then they complete the thought by saying “…called Linkin Park.” So I pay close attention. This is Mike Shinoda and Joe Hahn from the multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning band. They explain how, working with their intern, they got so successful marketing themselves that other artists and labels began to hire them as marketers. That was the genesis of Machine Shop.

Their business acumen was evident, but with all the competition in social media marketing, about a year ago they decided to pivot into venture capital. A few months later, I get together in Los Angeles for lunch with Shinoda, the group’s lead singer. He tells me he has personally invested in companies like Spotify and Sonos. “If you take a look at my Instagram, I post about drones and 3D printing,” he tells me, “but we invest in companies where we have something meaningful to offer.” We talk about the band’s investments in companies including car-service Lyft, Shyp, the on-demand shipping service, and Robin Hood, a financial trading app that aims to democratize access to the stock market. “There’s not much difference between launching a new album or launching a new app,” Shinoda says.

“Before starting the fund, the band spent a lot of time honing in on why we are investing and what types of companies we are looking for,” says Kiel Berry. He runs the day to day operations at Machine Shop Ventures. “We actually just came back from a trip to San Francisco to visit with portfolio companies. The guys were superengaged and you could see their commitment to unlocking ways our ecosystem could add value to the companies.”

Being in Austin during SXSW really underscores how intertwined the music and tech industries have become. This year I was introduced to Dean Serletic, who used to head A&R at Virgin Records (which means he signed new musicians). Now he runs marketing for Zya Music, a company that applies machine learning to democratizing music creation. We talk about what an emotional connection most people have to music, but how the average person lacks the musical skills and creative tools to express him or herself through song. Dean later introduces me to his brother Matt, Zya’s CEO and former head of Virgin Records. Matt Serletic might not be a household name like will.i.am or Linkin Park, but he is responsible for one of the most notable collaborations of recent times, when guitar icon Carlos Santana joined Matchbox Twenty lead singer Rob Thomas to record the smash hit “Smooth.”

Dean, Matt, and I get together a second time in San Francisco in March. They tell me they are about to make an announcement with a large partner, whom they won’t reveal. Facebook’s big F8 developer conference starts the next day, which turns out not to be a coincidence. Matt Serletic tells the world there that one of Zya’s first products, Ditty, integrates with Facebook Messenger and other platforms to enable anyone to create custom dynamic musical messages. If you type in your message and choose a popular musical track, Zya creates a one–of–a–kind song with your message in place of the tune’s lyrics. By the following October, the Ditty platform had helped people produce over 55 million unique musical messages. Matt Serletic says he’s not at all surprised to see musical artists increasingly drawn to tech. “Technology helps people around the globe express themselves,” he says. “It involves concepts such as architecture, structure, elegance. Musicians want to get involved in something like that.”

In the music industry I experienced the disruptive introduction of MP3, Napster, and even a platform that promised to predict hit songs based on something similar to what we now call predictive analytics. People in the music industry have been profoundly affected by the way tech has transformed their business. “We are in a state of great transition in the music industry. It feels a bit like a roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs,” says Serletic. Maybe that’s why he and so many others like him are deciding to dive in. Or maybe it’s the degree to which consumer tech is becoming so much like other consumer businesses of the past.

These people understand how to create, distribute, and market something they believe in. They understand the fickle consumer landscape. They are willing to do what’s necessary to succeed. Sure, some celebrities just want to leverage their fame, but I know how much passion, creativity, and focus it takes to succeed in music. If these people apply that to tech, my bet is that there are likely to be more huge successes like Beats.

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Are We Ready for Techno-Social Engineering? http://techonomy.com/2015/12/are-we-ready-for-techno-social-engineering/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/are-we-ready-for-techno-social-engineering/#respond Tue, 22 Dec 2015 21:45:45 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25595 Companies like Facebook and Google are developing new technologies to mine our data, to assess who we are and what we want, and – to hear the Internet giants tell it – deliver elegantly tailored experiences that help us better understand and interact with the world around us. David Lazer, an authority on social networks at Northeastern University, refers to it as the rise of the social algorithm and says it's an epic paradigm shift fraught with social and policy implications. Cardozo School of Law’s Brett Frischmann calls it techno-social engineering.

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The future of our personal data is in the hands of companies that author Morrison worries we cannot trust. (image courtesy Shutterstock)

The future of our personal data is in the hands of companies that author Morrison worries we cannot trust. (image courtesy Shutterstock)

I’m not too concerned that Skynet will unleash its army of Terminator robots on us. But to hear Bill Gates and Elon Musk tell it, we all probably have good reason to worry that computers will one day become too smart for our own good.

That day might seem far off for most of us, but companies like Facebook and Google are already developing artificial intelligence technologies to expand their “deep learning” capabilities. These new technologies will be used to mine our data to assess who we are and what we want, and – to hear the Internet giants tell it – deliver elegantly tailored experiences that help us better understand and interact with the world around us.

There are different terms and examples to describe and illustrate this new capability. David Lazer, an authority on social networks at Northeastern University, refers to it as the rise of the social algorithm and says this represents an epic paradigm shift that is fraught with social and policy implications. Cardozo School of Law’s Brett Frischmann calls it techno-social engineering, and he too is wary about potential consequences.

There would be nothing inherently wrong with techno-social engineering if we could be absolutely certain the Internet companies that collect and analyze our data acted only in our best interests. But if not, we could all be susceptible to manipulation by powerful systems we couldn’t possibly understand. Frischmann and R.I.T.’s Evan Selinger question whether we are moving into an age in which “humans become machine-like and pervasively programmable.”

We already know the Internet is segmenting us into distinct groups based on economic, social, educational, regional, political and behavioral classifiers, among others. Internet titans rely on these classifiers to “filter” the world for us – which really means they are deciding what stories and opinions we read, which ads and offers we see, and the type of opportunities we receive. They also decide for us what we don’t see.

Nicholas Carr recently highlighted how social networks regulate the political messages we receive – as well as our responses. “They shape, through the design of their apps and their information-filtering regimes, the forms of our discourse,” he wrote, before adding that we may soon discover the filters applied to our expression and dialogue by these “new gatekeepers” are more restrictive than ever.

Take this a step further and we get to some very uncomfortable questions: What might happen if and/or when market forces pressure these profit-driven “gatekeepers” to exploit our data in unexpected or unforeseen ways?

What if it became possible for a political aspirant to surreptitiously “buy” favorable coverage on a social network’s feed, so that users saw a disproportionately positive stream of stories and comments about that candidate? Harvard’s Jonathan Zittrain outlined a similar scenario here.

What if one of the big social networks started offering background checks that ranked the suitability of job applicants based on each candidate’s data set – regardless of whether the information was “public” or not?

What if your insurance company could marry the biometric data captured by your Fitbit with your health history and genetic profile, and was able to, for example, predict you were 10 times more likely than average to suffer a heart attack? Might you one day be required by your insurer to live a certain lifestyle in order to minimize its financial risk?

Such hypotheticals might sound outlandish today, but there are few constraints on the manner in which Internet giants can use our data to develop more capable algorithms, which could in turn underpin new services not necessarily built with users in mind. As Frischmann writes, this is powerful technology and it can significantly concentrate power.

“We need to ask who is doing the thinking as we increasingly use and depend on mind-extending technologies,” he says. “Who controls the technology? Who directs the architects?”

Right now, it’s the profit-driven companies that dominate the Internet. These companies insist the trust of their users is of paramount importance to them. But they are the same companies that keep moving privacy goalposts and rewriting their terms of use (or service) to ensure they enjoy wide latitude and broad legal protection to use our data as they see fit.

Scott Allan Morrison was a Silicon Valley correspondent for Dow Jones Newswires and Financial Times. His first novel, Terms of Use, is a thriller about the dark side of social media.

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CellMax Life Is Changing the Rules for Cancer Screening http://techonomy.com/2015/12/cellmax-life-is-changing-the-rules-for-cancer-screening/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/cellmax-life-is-changing-the-rules-for-cancer-screening/#respond Tue, 22 Dec 2015 19:57:46 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25583 An unheralded Silicon Valley biotechnology startup is fundamentally changing the rules of cancer screening. CellMax Life, headquartered in both Mountain View and Taipei, is deploying a technology that can detect cancer cells at their earliest stages. It has the potential to decisively change the economics of cancer screening and impacting cancer outcomes worldwide.

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CellMax Life can identify cancer cells earlier, which may be a really big deal. (illustration courtesy Shutterstock)

CellMax Life can identify cancer cells earlier, which may be a really big deal. (illustration courtesy Shutterstock)

An unheralded Silicon Valley biotechnology startup – not Theranos, not 23andMe – is fundamentally changing the rules of cancer screening.  CellMax Life, headquartered in both Mountain View and Taipei, is deploying a technology that can detect cancer cells at their earliest stages. It has the potential to decisively change the economics of cancer screening and impacting cancer outcomes worldwide.

CellMax’ first product, a colorectal cancer screening and monitor test, is already being used for screening people as young as 30 years of age in Taiwan. Colorectal cancer is the number one cancer there, currently growing unchecked year after year. Every 35 minutes, a Taiwanese is diagnosed with it.

The impact of CellMax’ early detection should be substantial – not only in screening and diagnosing cancer but also because it makes it possible to treat colorectal cancer at a cost far less than it costs when it is diagnosed late-stage. That is currently when the majority of diagnosis happens in Taiwan.

Our understanding of cancer and what causes it is far greater than it ever has been and yet still woefully insufficient to meaningfully impact health outcomes. It is undisputed that early detection has always had, and still has, the greatest impact on cancer survival rates, says Dr. Manana Kvezereli Javey, medical director for CellMax Life.  Treatment at the early stage is substantially more effective and the chance of remission far higher, she explains.

That early screening leads to early detection has already been shown in a study by the American Cancer Society.  Researchers used the National Cancer Data Base, a hospital-based cancer registry that covers nearly three-quarters of all cancer cases in the United States.   They found that under the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the expansion of insurance among younger women has made it possible for more of them to get early screening.  As a result 79% of women age 21 to 26 who learn they have cancer received an early stage diagnosis in 2011-12, up from about 71% in 2007-09.

Still, early screening continues to be the subject of major debate.  Advocates insist it saves lives and is far more effective in reducing cancer fatalities than if the disease is detected in later stages.  Critics of early screening argue that imprecise procedures often lead to unnecessary surgery or radiation, leading to other complications and raising treatment costs. But generally speaking, cancer patients seem to want to know about their disease as early as possible, so they can make their own decision about how to proceed.

Not surprisingly, most experts on both sides of the early-screening argument agree that the ideal is to make cancer screening simple, convenient, and accurate enough to be widely deployed and done regularly. This will reduce the need for expensive and still mostly ineffective chemotherapy while having the largest possible impact on cancer mortality.

The key with CellMax isn’t simply its ability to detect cancer early, which is hugely challenging on its own, but also be able to do it with a one-minute, simple, routine blood test.

CellMax’s technology identifies and isolates so-called circulating tumor cells (CTCs).  CTCs are shed into the blood stream very early even by the most minuscule tumors, well before they can be picked up by normal imaging screening methods. And though CTCs have been studied for almost two decades, researchers have not been able to find them consistently enough in the early stages of cancer to make them clinically useful for early-detection.

CTCs often get lost in the plethora of blood cells, so it’s finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.  While conventional screening procedures are unable to identify cancer cells until there is a large enough tumor mass to detect, CellMax is capable of signal their existence at the very earliest stages. All with a simple blood test that has been validated in clinical studies.

The colorectal cancer blood test is only the first CellMax product. It plans soon to introduce similar screening tools for prostate cancer, breast cancer and other hard-to-detect types. It has an ambitious long term vision of providing all cancer-risk, screening and disease-related information for both healthy and diseased patients.

In June 2015, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) published a proposed framework for assessing the value of various cancer treatments.  The goal was to evaluate treatment regimens on the basis of their clinical benefit, toxicity and cost.  It’s quite possible that this assessment could validate CellMax and its methods.

While the cost of cancer care accounts for a relatively small portion of overall U.S. health care expenditures – it still is expected to rise to $158 billion in 2020 from $125 billion in 2015. And its social and emotional costs are incalculable. It would be a big deal if we gained the ability to mass screen, detect early and dramatically reduce the cost of effective treatment.

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The Personal Genome Project Ten Years Later: What We’ve Learned http://techonomy.com/2015/12/the-personal-genome-project-ten-years-later-what-weve-learned/ http://techonomy.com/2015/12/the-personal-genome-project-ten-years-later-what-weve-learned/#respond Thu, 17 Dec 2015 20:17:28 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=25576 It's ten years since the launch of the Personal Genome Project. PGP was the first attempt to assemble a massive study of people willing to publicly share the DNA information from their entire genome as well as their medical history, biological samples, and even facial images. A decade ago many thought it crazy. But it has been an extraordinary success.

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Some of the many brave souls who opened their genomic and other data to the world in the Personal Genome Project starting in 2005. The strips of tape help record facial metrics. (Photo courtesy PGP)

Some of the many brave souls who opened their genomic and other data to the world in the Personal Genome Project starting in 2005. The strips of tape help record facial metrics. (Photo courtesy PGP)

2015 marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Personal Genome Project, and the milestone is worth noting for a number of reasons. PGP was the first attempt to assemble a massive study of people willing to publicly share the DNA information from their entire genome as well as their medical history, biological samples, and even additional information like facial images. It has turned out to be an extraordinary success. Yet a decade ago many of his peers thought PGP founder and genomics visionary George Church was betting on the wrong horse. Who, they wondered, would be nutty enough to release their personal genome sequence and medical data to the world? And if anyone did, how would it benefit the field?

Ten years later, it’s tough to find anyone arguing against the PGP. While the project has only sequenced a fraction of the 100,000 participants Church originally sought, the data it generates has become one of the most important resources used by genome scientists around the world. Because PGP participants sign very broad consent forms—granting permission to reuse their data and to allow scientists virtually anywhere to contact them for follow-up studies —the data has become a gold standard for researchers who need a control group for their disease study or who need real-world trial data to test a new health-related algorithm.

The PGP also turned out to be one of the best demonstrations yet that consumers are eager to learn about their genomic data and are willing to share it. The project kicked off long before personal-testing companies like 23andMe or Navigenics emerged, and in some ways helped usher in the field of consumer genetics. The people signing up for PGP weren’t just a bunch of genomic researchers eager to try out sequencing technologies on themselves (although there were certainly some of those); they included also philanthropists and investors and even one of the world’s most prolific sperm donors. Together, they showed that it was cool to be involved in genomics. More importantly, they proved that traditional worries about making personal data public weren’t universally held: There are many people willing to release their data if they think it leads to better science and future cures for disease.

Even though PGP hasn’t received nearly the funding it needs to sequence everyone who wants to take part, it has an impressive track record of inspiring others to launch similar projects. There is now a network of Personal Genome Projects in Canada, the UK, and Austria that bring valuable exposure to the benefits of genomics to consumers in these countries. More such projects are expected in the future.

PGP recently kicked off a new project, the Open Humans initiative. Open Humans espouses the same data-sharing mantra of its PGP parent, but dramatically expands the scope by letting people share genomic and microbiome (the ecology of the human gut) data they have gathered through other providers, such as 23andMe. PGP itself sequences only the genomes of its volunteers, so the size of its database is necessarily limited by how many people it can admit and test. Open Humans helps bypass this challenge by recognizing that consumers are getting their hands on such data from any number of providers—and that pulling it all together could lead to an incredibly valuable genomic resource. Consumers may upload their data to Open Humans and share it with researchers, making the most of their own genomic information.

Back in 2005 when Church first penned an editorial announcing the launch of PGP, few thought it would last for two years, let alone 10. It’s a tribute to the dedicated team running the project, and to the brave souls who were willing to participate in a revolutionary new study, that PGP is not only still running but also that it has played such an important role in shaping genomic research and consumer genomics along the way. Already, scientists are using PGP data to help pinpoint the genetic source of disease in other populations. In the future, this data—as well as that from Open Humans and new PGP-inspired projects—will be instrumental in establishing the associations between variations in DNA and diseases. Such critical insights will pave the way for more effective and more personalized medicine.

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