Techonomy http://techonomy.com Wed, 06 May 2015 21:05:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.5 Empowering Women One Brand at a Time http://techonomy.com/2015/05/empowering-women-one-brand-at-a-time/ http://techonomy.com/2015/05/empowering-women-one-brand-at-a-time/#comments Wed, 06 May 2015 15:41:43 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21474 Women are everywhere. No surprise, right? They do, after all, make up 50 percent of the world’s population. Yet, everywhere we look, women are a topic of conversation. Michelle Obama’s outfit choices on a recent tour of Japan are proclaimed to break down female stereotypes. Sweaty, jiggling, and fabulous women exercising on our screens chant “This girl can.” A woman’s mob killing in Afghanistan sparks a global #JusticeForFarkhunda movement. The banning of "India’s Daughter," a documentary about the gang rape in Delhi, raises hackles across the globe. Meanwhile, Ellen Pao's lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins sheds light on sexism in Silicon Valley, even if she lost.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Women are everywhere. No surprise, right? They do, after all, make up 50 percent of the world’s population. Yet, everywhere we look, women are a topic of conversation. Michelle Obama’s outfit choices on a recent tour of Japan are proclaimed to break down female stereotypes. Sweaty, jiggling, and fabulous women exercising on our screens chant “This girl can.” A woman’s mob killing in Afghanistan sparks a global #JusticeForFarkhunda movement. The banning of “India’s Daughter,” a documentary about the gang rape in Delhi, raises hackles across the globe. Meanwhile, Ellen Pao’s lawsuit against venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins sheds light on sexism in Silicon Valley, even if she lost.

Why so much activity stirring around the boundaries of gender? And why now? As cultural insight mavens, we see something fundamental taking place. Some people are calling it the Fourth Wave of Feminism. Fed up with everyday sexism and forged by other forms of activism, women are empowered by social media and other communications technologies. They are speaking up across all sectors, countries, and societies.

This is a cultural movement that is bringing the diversity and complexity of women’s lives to the fore. It is pushing politics, culture, and brands to tackle the thorny issues of educational and job equality, freedom from violence, bias, and so much more.

Of course “womanhood” in India is very different from the same concept in Indianapolis. Women in the U.S. have made tremendous progress in economic independence. The gender pay gap is narrowing. Women-owned firms now account for 30 percent of all enterprises, though you’d never guess it from the make-up of the investment industry. (Just 6 percent of partners at VC firms are women, for example.) The issues in emerging markets like India, Turkey, and Colombia are quite different as women suffer both from inadequate economic and social opportunity.

But the underlying global forces are shifting in similar directions. Solidarity movements like #HeForShe are adopting a counterpoint narrative in order to advance public policy . The movement speaks to male leaders: imploring every CEO to close the pay gap; encouraging every head of state to make sure legislation does not discriminate against women; asking every father to ensure that his girls go to school. And smart brands too are getting in on the conversation—recognizing and honoring the multifaceted nature of womanhood and the complex ways its representations are evolving in culture. When 60 to 70 percent of women feel misunderstood by marketers, there is much to be gained by proving the contrary:

  • Under Armour proposes a motivational mantra reminding us that women athletes “will what they want” and affirming that “the space between woman and athlete is no space at all.”
  • The Celine fashion brand celebrates age and uniqueness via 80-year-old Joan Didion, “the new face of French fashion,” taking a stand that a women’s worth goes well beyond the superficial.
  • Walmart promotes women makers and businesses through its newly designed “Women-Owned” logo on product packaging and online.
  • Always redefines what it means to run #LikeAGirl.
  • And then, of course, there is Dove: Dove Real Women, Dove Self Esteem, Dove Sketches, and most recently, Dove Curls. Note: even Dove’s “arch nemesis” Axe (both Unilever brands) has changed its tune, moving from overt sexism to a subtler form of seduction.

Yet for each brand getting it right, far more are missing the mark. Brands need to realize that “femvertising” missteps represent a real risk for their future growth. A few points to keep in mind:

  1. If you are engaging with an issue, ensure that it is coherent with your brand values and that you can “own” it. Two U.S. brands—Microsoft and Verizon—have recently jumped on the gender diversity bandwagon, both focusing on the female STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) gap. Both are urging parents/teachers to encourage girls’ love of science. Both offer up poignant advertising which addresses a pivotal societal topic. Yet, one is likely to get more credit than the other because the issue is more closely aligned with its pre-existing brand equity. Microsoft’s “Girls Do Science” comes across as more legitimate, despite the fact that we find the Verizon “Inspire Her Mind” ad more compelling.
  2. Avoid clichés. The Subway brand took heat last October for suggesting in their ads that women should try to get fit so that they can wear sexy costumes for Halloween. Elle magazine’s response sums up the reaction: “How many eye roll-worthy moments can you fit into 30 seconds? Let us count the WTFs. Subway not only perpetuates the pressure for us to wear slutty costumes on October 31, but also takes it one step further saying we should diet to do it.”
  3. Make sure your tone is consistent with your brand character. Keds has been using Taylor Swift to promote “Brave Girls”—an emotive message to empower young women. But what is the relevance to Keds? Can shoes make you brave? Is it believable when there is no evident link to Keds’s brand character or values? We think instead they could be diminishing the meaning of bravery. A “brave” narrative is best told by a brand that is recognized for its own bravery. One doing this well is Brazil’s Cerveja Feminista beer, tackling the objectification of women in traditional beer and advertising by championing a non-sexist beer culture.

Given the long road that remains to real gender equality, brands do and will continue to play an important role in supporting and even fueling this societal shift.

There are more ways than ever before to begin meaningful conversations with and about women. Brands need to embrace the complexity of this topic, carefully choose the stand they seek to take, and communicate with conviction and authenticity. The ultimate goal will be to get to a place where the need to promote women’s empowerment becomes a relic of the past. But we sure aren’t there yet.

Leslie Pascaud is executive vice president of branding and sustainable innovation at Added Value. This article was written with support by Emma Godfrey, brand project director at Added Value.

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How Tech Is Helping Relief Efforts in Nepal http://techonomy.com/2015/05/how-tech-is-helping-relief-efforts-in-nepal/ http://techonomy.com/2015/05/how-tech-is-helping-relief-efforts-in-nepal/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 16:08:18 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21470 As Nepal faces the aftermath of April’s devastating earthquake that claimed over 7,500 lives, technologies like drones, people finders, and crowdsourcing platforms are playing a role in disaster relief. Drones, so often associated with the violence of military warfare, are contributing to emergency-response efforts in Nepal by videoing and mapping the disaster zone. Using thermal sensors and ultra-zoom lenses, camera-equipped drones scan the wreckage and identify survivors. And soon, unmanned aerial vehicles might also be able to deliver critical medical supplies, food, and water to hard-to-reach areas. Read more at WIRED

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

As Nepal faces the aftermath of April’s devastating earthquake that claimed over 7,500 lives, technologies like drones, people finders, and crowdsourcing platforms are playing a role in disaster relief.

Drones, so often associated with the violence of military warfare, are contributing to emergency-response efforts in Nepal by videoing and mapping the disaster zone. Using thermal sensors and ultra-zoom lenses, camera-equipped drones scan the wreckage and identify survivors. And soon, unmanned aerial vehicles might also be able to deliver critical medical supplies, food, and water to hard-to-reach areas.

Search and social giants are also using their vast digital networks to help locate friends and family in affected areas. Google’s Person Finder sends notifications to searchers about their loved ones each time others submit an update on them. Facebook’s Safety Check lets users know their Facebook friends are okay based on whether they have marked themselves as safe. The International Committee of the Red Cross has also created a website for registering missing persons or reporting yourself as alive.

Crowdsourcing platforms, too, are rallying support from around the world. Through Tomnod, volunteers can tag satellite images to help arm relief teams with crowdsourced maps. And using online fundraising sites like Global Giving, donors can make financial contributions via text message.

If you’d like to join Global Giving in its mission to raise $1 million for Nepal, donate $10 by texting “Give Nepal” to 80088 from your U.S. mobile phone.

Read more at WIRED

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Driverless Cars Debut Soon—But Will We Be Ready for Them? http://techonomy.com/2015/05/driverless-cars-debut-soon-but-will-we-be-ready-for-them/ http://techonomy.com/2015/05/driverless-cars-debut-soon-but-will-we-be-ready-for-them/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 17:05:07 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21465 Is operating a driverless car legal? With Tesla, Audi, and Cadillac all set to roll out vehicles featuring autonomous functions over the next year—in a legal climate where the federal government and a majority of states lack any regulation at all—the question is difficult to address, but urgently demands an answer. Many automakers say that if a state doesn’t expressly bar hands-free driving, it’s permitted. And legal experts agree. But they also point out that how police officers elect to actually handle driverless cars is another matter. Read more at The New York Times

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Is operating a driverless car legal? With Tesla, Audi, and Cadillac all set to roll out vehicles featuring autonomous functions over the next year—in a legal climate where the federal government and a majority of states lack any regulation at all—the question is difficult to address, but urgently demands an answer.

Many automakers say that if a state doesn’t expressly bar hands-free driving, it’s permitted. And legal experts agree. But they also point out that how police officers elect to actually handle driverless cars is another matter. “It’s not just what’s on the books; it’s what’s enforced,” Bryant Walker Smith, law professor at the University of South Carolina, told The New York Times. “If a police officer sees you driving down the road with no hands, he could determine that’s reckless and still give you a ticket. Individual officers have a tremendous amount of discretion.”

As regulation slowly begins its chase of the innovation that’s far ahead, some officials are pushing for more urgent movement. California and Nevada, for example, have already begun drafting consumer rules. But while determining state-by-state whether consumers can buy and drive autonomous vehicles is important, federal action is needed to avoid a hodge-podge of regulations across the U.S. The struggle in this case, though, is defining what federal law is actually regulating. As the Times reports: federal law regulates the cars (to ensure they meet safety standards); state laws regulate the drivers—so what happens when the cars are the drivers?

Read more at The New York Times

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TE Videos Set Stage for Policy Conference in DC June 9 http://techonomy.com/2015/04/te-videos-set-stage-for-policy-conference-in-dc-june-9/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/te-videos-set-stage-for-policy-conference-in-dc-june-9/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 14:47:05 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21438 In June we’re launching a new conference, Techonomy Policy. It will focus on the pressure and friction points created when the speed of tech butts up against the ability of government, governance, regulators, and institutions in general to keep up. We’re trying to regulate things that are completely new, be it the technology itself or the applications it enables. And by the time we start thinking about implications, it’s already too late. Can policy become less reactive and more proactive? And how do you navigate such ethically and politically complex issues with huge economic, social, and moral implications?

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In June we’re launching a new conference, Techonomy Policy. It will focus on the pressure and friction points created when the speed of tech butts up against the ability of government, governance, regulators, and institutions in general to keep up.

We’re trying to regulate things that are completely new, be it the technology itself or the applications it enables. And by the time we start thinking about implications, it’s already too late. Can policy become less reactive and more proactive? And how do you navigate such ethically and politically complex issues with huge economic, social, and moral implications?

Just last week we learned that China was editing the genomes of human embryos using CRISPR/Cas9. This comes about a month after a group of leading biologists and scientists (including recent Time 100 honoree Jennifer Doudna, one of the inventors of the method) called for a moratorium on its use in human DNA.

At Techonomy Bio last month we convened a discussion called Policy: Makers, Shakers & Breakers. Skim the transcript, you’ll see a lot of acronyms, but you’ll also get an interesting read on what happens when you put an FBI agent, a biohacker, a synbio startup CEO, and a financial services startup CEO (with a deep background in healthcare policy and pharma) together in a room.

So as tech marches on, changing almost every sector of business and society, how does everything else keep up? And how can the tech industry work better with the government to help? One thing that is not lacking in both tech and government is smart, civic-minded individuals who want to, and are, working towards solutions.

For more on civic tech, check out How Good Can Technology Make Our Governments & Communities?, Mapping the Policy Genome, and The Responsive City: Engaging Communities Through Data-Smart Governance.

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The Peculiar Charms (and Perils) of Electronic Voting http://techonomy.com/2015/04/the-peculiar-charms-and-perils-of-electronic-voting/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/the-peculiar-charms-and-perils-of-electronic-voting/#comments Tue, 28 Apr 2015 13:31:24 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21432 It’s remarkable that in a world where it seems everything is becoming more digitized most of the globe still elects their political leaders with pencil and paper. Only a peculiarly-diverse handful of countries—including Belgium, Brazil, India, and Venezuela—use electronic voting machines nationwide. (The U.S. and other countries use them in some areas.) What these countries have discovered is that when you have a robust system the cost of elections falls, people’s votes count more, fraud is cut, and the results are known faster. And, rather extraordinarily, replacing paper with machines can change societies in ways that save lives.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

It’s remarkable that in a world where it seems everything is becoming more digitized most of the globe still elects their political leaders with pencil and paper. Only a peculiarly-diverse handful of countries—including Belgium, Brazil, India, and Venezuela—use electronic voting machines nationwide. (The U.S. and other countries use them in some areas.) What these countries have discovered is that when you have a robust system the cost of elections falls, people’s votes count more, fraud is cut, and the results are known faster. And, rather extraordinarily, replacing paper with machines can change societies in ways that save lives. (For more, see below.)

So why hasn’t the world moved more quickly to voting via a machine? Unfortunately the path to electronic voting nirvana is strewn with rather deep potholes, principally around security and transparency.

In 2006, the Netherlands reverted from electronic voting back to paper after Dutch campaigners hacked a voting machine, causing it to produce phony results. (They also taught the device to play chess.) Likewise, in 2012, Ireland’s nascent experiment with e-voting ended in frustration when €54 million worth of machines were sold to a recycling firm for €70,000 because the machines couldn’t be guaranteed to be safe from tampering, nor could they produce a printout so that results could be double-checked.

But it’s far from all bad. I spoke to Antonio Mugica, CEO of Smartmatic, the largest privately-owned maker of electronic voting devices. (India’s machines are made by state-owned companies and Brazil has used several providers.)

Smartmatic, based in the U.K. and the U.S., has manufactured over 150,000 devices to help conduct elections around the world. Their machines have counted close to 2.5 billion votes in over 3,500 elections. Smartmatic’s machines were not implicated in either the Ireland or the Netherlands disasters. Security is understandably at the forefront of Mugica’s mind. “It is critical to have a robust system. Our machines have over 200 security features and cryptographic algorithms to make them resilient to attack. The machines and software are foolproof, tamper-proof, and hacker-proof.” He hopes. In today’s attack-rich online environment, determined attackers seem to be able to undo almost any protections. But Smartmatic employs a state-of-the-art approach. It stores, tallies, and transmits votes with technologies similar to those typically used for banking transactions.

According to Mugica, electronic voting machines increase the transparency of an election. He argues that the best way to increase transparency is to allow the hardware and source code contained in the software running the machines to be reviewed by all political parties and election monitors to check for bugs ahead of an election. (But as with most things political, controversy can still ensue. For all Mugica’s intentions, his company has sometimes been accused of withholding its source code.) Another feature intended to add transparency are the printed copies produced of each electronic vote. These can be verified by hand during post-electoral audits.

Electronic voting machines can also make elections more accurate, which enfranchises people. Even optical scanners, which scan voter-marked paper ballots, popular in parts of the U.S., have a margin of error because people mis-mark their ballot. According to Smartmatic, when Venezuela migrated from optical scanning to Smartmatic voting machines in 2004, it lowered the amount of spoiled ballots from 10 percent to zero. Interestingly, the cost of running the election also halved—from $8-10 per voter to $4. Since there is no human participation, the processes of counting votes: summation, tabulation, and adjudication processes are fully automated. It’s cheaper to run an election with machines than people.

Digitizing votes also saves lives. I spoke to Thomas Fujiwara, assistant professor of economics at Princeton University, about the effect voting machines had on the Brazilian election. At the beginning of the period studied by Fujiwara (1998-2002), 23 percent of the Brazilian population was illiterate. Paper ballots require Brazilians to write the candidate’s name or electoral number on a ballot—resulting in many error-ridden and blank ballots, especially in poorer areas. In mechanizing the vote, Brazil created a system that guided voters through the process, asking them to confirm their choice with a picture of the candidate they are supporting. More poor and illiterate voters then began to vote, which in turn encouraged politicians to address their concerns.

These new voters elected left-wing political parties that promised—and delivered—a stronger state-funded healthcare system, which increased spending on maternal health. Fujiwara has shown that this increased spending directly after elections in 1998 and 2002 resulted in fewer babies being born underweight, a key indicator of infant mortality. For more, see his study.

Voting machines have also saved lives in the Philippines. The Philippines is a nation of 2,000 inhabited islands where 18,000 political seats are up for grabs in each election. Vote counting used to take up to 18 hours in each polling station and then it took up to 40 days to reconcile the vote count nationally. In this interim period, dozens of lives could sometimes be lost in violent disputes that erupted around the vote count. Additionally, it was common for ballot boxes to go missing, causing more chaos and distrust in the election process. Electronic voting machines first went into use in 2010, and by the May 2013 midterm election the victors were announced between 2 and 48 hours after even the most remote islander had cast her vote on an electronic voting machine. The usual corruption and violence around the votes significantly diminished.

Of course voting machines don’t solve all problems. As Judith Kelley, senior associate dean at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy told me, “Elections are huge, complex systems with multiple opportunities for cheating. Addressing fraud is a bit like playing whack-a-mole: as soon as you eliminate fraud in one part of the system, it pops up somewhere else.” In the U.S., the Supreme Court is dealing with a case of gerrymandering in Arizona. In Zambia, fishy results come from the most remote polls, where election monitors aren’t present. In India, political parties offer taxi rides, saris, and cash in return for a ride to a polling station in more remote areas. In effect, they’re buying votes. The machines may be clean, but sadly that doesn’t mean that the politicians and parties you’re voting for will be.

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How Tech Fights Problems Caused by Tech http://techonomy.com/2015/04/how-tech-fights-problems-caused-by-tech/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/how-tech-fights-problems-caused-by-tech/#comments Mon, 27 Apr 2015 16:26:01 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21428 We live in a time of increasingly obsessive worry that our lives are being worsened by the tech that surrounds us. We are sacrificing our privacy, we hear, as we dwell online. We don't spend enough time with real people and too much instead in virtual interaction. We suffer from shortening attention spans. And on and on. However, there are likely to be endless ways to employ tech to combat the effects of tech that we decide we really do not like. This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education is about tools to reduce distraction while taking online courses. It points toward what's possible. Careful research on students showed that using software to give them incentives not to stop studying really worked. Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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(Image via Shutterstock)

We live in a time of increasingly obsessive worry that our lives are being worsened by the tech that surrounds us. We are sacrificing our privacy, we hear, as we dwell online. We don’t spend enough time with real people and too much instead in virtual interaction. We suffer from shortening attention spans. And on and on. However, there are likely to be endless ways to employ tech to combat the effects of tech that we decide we really do not like. This article in The Chronicle of Higher Education is about tools to reduce distraction while taking online courses. It points toward what’s possible. Careful research on students showed that using software to give them incentives not to stop studying really worked. They studied harder and increased their course completion rates. One thing we at Techonomy see coming is a deepening integration of psychological understanding with technology design. That will surely lead to negatives, at least in the opinion of some, like more effective ways to convince us to buy things. But it will also mean we can better take advantage of modern revolutions like online learning.

Read more at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Could a Microbe Transplant Make You Thinner? (And Other Amazing Things About Bacteria and Antibiotics) http://techonomy.com/2015/04/could-a-microbe-transplant-make-you-thinner-and-other-amazing-things-about-bacteria-and-antibiotics/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/could-a-microbe-transplant-make-you-thinner-and-other-amazing-things-about-bacteria-and-antibiotics/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 14:50:00 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21412 We are in the earliest days of understanding the human microbiome—the communities of microbes that live in and on our bodies—but already scientists are getting a sense of the incredible complexity of this ecosystem and its interaction with us. These advances were made possible just in the past decade by the latest DNA sequencers and other technologies that can scan and analyze huge numbers of microbes at a time. This understanding may enable radical new techniques for weight control, among other revolutionary implications.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

We are in the earliest days of understanding the human microbiome—the communities of microbes that live in and on our bodies—but already scientists are getting a sense of the incredible complexity of this ecosystem and its interaction with us. These advances were made possible just in the past decade by the latest DNA sequencers and other technologies that can scan and analyze huge numbers of microbes at a time. This understanding may enable radical new techniques for weight control, among other revolutionary implications.

You may have heard this statistic about the number of cells in your body: for every human cell, there are an estimated 10 bacterial cells, making you approximately 10 percent human. But you probably haven’t heard this one: for every human gene in your body, there are at least 100 bacterial genes, making you less than 1 percent human. In short, we may play only a bit part in the global function of ourselves.

For example: did you know that you’ve been taking heavy-duty antibiotics virtually every day of your life? That may seem incredible to those of us who steer clear of Z-Paks, but new studies reveal that it’s true. Michael Fischbach, a scientist at the University of California, San Francisco, has turned his attention to the biological products microbes are contributing to their human environment. As it turns out, many of these microbes are synthesizing molecules and releasing them into our gut or any other part of our body they colonize. Scientists don’t yet know what all of these molecules do, but Fischbach’s analysis shows that many of them are antibiotics—essentially, each microbe’s attempt to control the populations of competing microbes around it.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise, since studies of other environments have taught us that microbes are in a constant arms race against each other. But it’s something we have not yet appreciated about our own systems, and presents a confounding variable in dealing with infections. It also points to a new factor in the battle against drug-resistant bacteria: if the antibiotics we use, most of which were originally derived from natural sources, are close enough to the compounds produced by bacteria living in us, that could mean our existing ecosystems have already developed resistance to those drugs. Fischbach’s work suggests that introducing a new antibiotic to a system already teeming with antibiotics could be a far more complicated situation than we have ever suspected.

(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Studies of the microbiome have yielded new insight in other areas, such as obesity. Rob Knight, a scientist at the University of California, San Diego, has done extensive work on microbial communities in people, comparing populations by age, geography, and other factors. In a recent presentation, he reported on the hunt for genetic markers linked to obesity. While human genes have never been much more accurate than a coin flip in distinguishing whether a person is lean or obese, Knight said, his team has determined that microbiome patterns can make that same prediction with 90 percent accuracy.

A favorite axiom among scientists is that correlation does not imply causation, so Knight’s finding could simply mean that people develop a different microbiome once they become obese. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. Tests in mice suggest that changing the microbiome pattern in a lean mouse to one associated with obesity will actually make the mouse obese. In theory, this could pave the way for a microbiome transplant that would replace an obese person’s microbial community with that of a lean person to allow them to control their weight. Related techniques are already used in patients with a particularly troublesome gut bacterial infection.

Around the world, scientists are delving into the microbiome to figure out how it’s affected by our diet, the infections we have, the drugs we take—and how, in turn, the microbiome is affecting us. Even these early studies prove that our microbiomes have tremendous impact on our health. In the future, the microbiome may be looked at as an organ we never knew we had.

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Robots for All http://techonomy.com/2015/04/robots-for-all/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/robots-for-all/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 16:22:37 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21396 “Most robotics kits are hundreds or even thousands of dollars, so we wanted to give kids who don’t have that kind of money a chance build their own robots,” Ritvik Jayakumar tells Leesburg Today. The really cool part? Jayakumar isn’t a Silicon Valley whiz (yet) or a crowd-funded entrepreneur (yet). He’s one of nine Ashburn, Virginia, middle-school students on “Team Gear UP!” competing at the FIRST Championship taking place this week in St. Louis, Missouri. One of the program’s elements tasked teams to come up with an innovative solution to improve learning around the world, and before the team knew it, the Craft-A-Bot kit was born. Read more at Leesburg Today

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(Image via Leesburg Today)

(Image via Leesburg Today)

“Most robotics kits are hundreds or even thousands of dollars, so we wanted to give kids who don’t have that kind of money a chance build their own robots,” Ritvik Jayakumar tells Leesburg Today.

The really cool part? Jayakumar isn’t a Silicon Valley whiz (yet) or a crowd-funded entrepreneur (yet). He’s one of nine Ashburn, Virginia, middle-school students on “Team Geared UP!” competing at the FIRST Championship taking place this week in St. Louis, Missouri.

One of the program’s elements tasked teams to come up with an innovative solution to improve learning around the world, and before the team knew it, the Craft-A-Bot kit was born. The kit includes 32 biodegradable, cornstarch-based pieces, two control switches, and two motors to get students started. In addition, “users can access a website with thousands of other pieces that can be printed with a 3D printer and snapped together to create practically any type of robot” they can imagine.

Instructions are graphical so any user, regardless of language, can follow them. Templates on the box can be cut out for “bodies,” and recycling salvaged parts (think jar lids) is encouraged.

The team—composed of Pranav Bangarbale, Vishnu Maddipatla, and Mihir Kulkarn of Stone Hill Middle School; Jonathan Vanderlyn and Ritvik Jayakumar of Eagle Ridge Middle School; Neil Rayala of Farmwell Station Middle School; Chloe and Kenzie Green of Loudoun School for the Gifted; and Ananya Rajkumar of Virginia Academy—has already met with, and impressed, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and his wife, Virginia Secretary of Education Anne Holton, as well other political and business leaders. After the competition, they plan to meet with a local company interested in manufacturing and distributing the kits on a large scale.

Read more at Leesburg Today

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Educators Unite to Build Vietnam’s Tech Talent http://techonomy.com/2015/04/educators-unite-to-build-vietnams-tech-talent/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/educators-unite-to-build-vietnams-tech-talent/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 13:50:38 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21386 Vietnam’s tech industry is booming. For growth to continue, however, Vietnam must cultivate an increasingly skilled tech workforce and develop new capabilities in research, problem solving, and client service. But building such capabilities requires a major mindset shift at educational institutions, which typically emphasize rote learning over problem solving. Such a change will also challenge companies that opt for rigid hierarchy over the flatter structures that encourage creativity and initiative. To overcome these challenges, many Vietnamese tech companies are partnering with educators, NGOs, and government agencies. Although some companies still think of Vietnam as simply a place for cheap labor, the forward-thinking ones know the country has deeper potential.

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Vietnamese student learns game design. (Photo courtesy of Everest Education, Ho Chi Minh City)

Vietnamese student learns game design. (Photo courtesy of Everest Education, Ho Chi Minh City)

Vietnam’s tech industry is booming. Software and electronics exports soared in recent years, and a domestic market for tech products and services is steadily gaining strength. For growth to continue, however, Vietnam must cultivate an increasingly skilled tech workforce. Educators and private tech companies are working intensively to make this happen.

Companies across the Vietnamese tech ecosystem will benefit from a better talent pipeline. Electronics manufacturers, whose exports account for the biggest slice of industry revenues, need more skilled managers, engineers, and technicians. Outsourcing and product companies, who employ the lion’s share of skilled local tech workers, need better developers, product managers, marketers, and account managers.

Since companies here are striving to produce higher value products and services, new capabilities in research, problem solving, and client service must be developed. But building such capabilities requires a major mindset shift at educational institutions, which typically emphasize rote learning over problem solving. Such a change will also challenge companies that opt for rigid hierarchy over the flatter structures that encourage creativity and initiative.

To overcome these challenges, many Vietnamese tech companies are partnering with educators, NGOs, and government agencies. Although some companies still think of Vietnam as simply a place for cheap labor, the forward-thinking ones know the country has deeper potential.

This potential comes from a strong cultural affinity for science, technology, engineering, and math skills—the so-called STEM disciplines. Vietnamese students often gain exposure to computer science and training at a young age, and earn high scores in math and science on international exams.

Yet while students from the top schools often graduate with good technical skills, many employers complain that they lack practical experience, and that soft skills, such as teamwork and creative problem solving, tend to be particularly weak. English language abilities also need improvement.

The Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program (HEEAP)—an international consortium of educational activists founded by Intel, Arizona State University, and USAID in 2010—is leading one of the most substantial reform efforts. The program aims to update the country’s engineering and technical vocational schools to ensure they produce work-ready graduates. According to Jeffrey Goss, HEEAP’s director, it currently focuses on electrical, mechanical, and industrial engineering programs. But the organization aims to expand into other engineering disciplines including computer science.

HEEAP’s primary target is to increase the number of engineering schools in Vietnam that meet regional and international accreditation standards. It has trained thousands of Vietnamese professors in modern techniques that emphasize applied learning and group problem solving over theory-based instruction. It is also helping Vietnamese universities implement modern IT systems to improve administrative efficiency, track progress towards accreditation, and enable online learning.

As HEEAP works within existing educational institutions, the German and Vietnamese governments are partnering to create an entirely new one. In 2008, they founded Vietnamese-German University (VGU), a research-oriented institution with a strong focus on technical education. Accredited in Germany, VGU provides students with exposure to international curricula and research opportunities in engineering, computer science, and related disciplines. All courses are taught in English.

VGU has a little over 1,000 students currently enrolled, and is still relatively small. But with $180 million in funding from the World Bank, the university is planning a campus for 12,000 students, lecturers, and researchers in 2017. Its goal is to become a leading research university in Southeast Asia.

Other education activists are working to improve STEM training at primary and secondary levels. Tony Ngo and Don Le of Everest Education, a private tutoring company in Ho Chi Minh City, have been developing courses in applied math based on Singapore Math, as well as pre-college English based on Common Core. They also run Innovation & Technology Camps with local high schools like the International School of Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon South International School.

Another initiative was the Young Maker’s Challenge, a competition that trained and assessed high school students from Ho Chi Minh City on projects that required programming, logic, and circuitry skills. Co-sponsored by Everest Education and Intel, the event catalyzed interest from all corners of the community. “We were amazed at how many local and international high schools participated,” said Ngo. “We’re definitely going to do it again this winter, but bigger.”

Some are working to bring tech education to underprivileged children. Orphan Impact is an NGO that builds computer centers and runs after-school training programs for orphanages around Vietnam. Everest Education offers scholarship programs for students in need.

Programs like these will build the talent pipeline for the future, but many tech companies need skilled workers now, so a growing number are investing in on-the-job training, mentorship programs, and continuing education

Atlassian, an Australian maker of enterprise software, is one example. With over 150 people at an R&D center it founded in partnership with Pyramid Consulting, an IT services firm in Ho Chi Minh City, it invests heavily in training programs that include soft and hard skills, English language instruction, and work exchanges with its company headquarters in Sydney.

“Our ultimate goal is to cultivate a product mindset,” says Thanh Phan, who leads Vietnam operations. “Vietnam has plenty of coders who can build things to spec, but it takes extra effort to get people to think from the user’s perspective and feel a true sense of ownership for their work.”

Many other companies have similar priorities. KMS Technology, for instance, is an IT services provider that strives for deep long-term relationships with its clients. It has also incubated and spun off two products—a software testing management platform called QA Symphony and a Chinese chess game called WiTurn.

“Since we often work with clients for years at a time, it’s essential that we get our developers to think, work, and act like our client’s own staff,” says Viet Hung Nguyen, managing director of KMS. “It usually takes 1-2 months of training for a new hire to become productive in this way.”

Other industry supporters are taking further steps to build talent. The Finnish government launched an Innovation Partnership Program in 2009 that includes grants for early-stage tech companies, business groups, and community mentors. It is also developing a curriculum on entrepreneurship and innovation in Vietnam.

And then there’s Anh-Minh Do, Vietnam’s leading tech journalist and a central figure in its emerging tech ecosystem. A reporter for Tech in Asia, he’s highly active in arranging lectures, programs, and other events. Some of his upcoming initiatives include a conference for mobile developers, a startup mentorship network, and a hackathon for agricultural tech.

Vietnam still has a long way to go to become a global tech powerhouse. But expect more sophisticated tech to be “Made in Vietnam” in coming years.

Will Greene runs TigerMine Ventures, an advisory firm that helps companies and organizations grow in Southeast Asia.

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What Is MVNO Anyway? Google It … http://techonomy.com/2015/04/what-is-mvno-anyway-google-it/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/what-is-mvno-anyway-google-it/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 13:43:12 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21365 As anticipation grows around the impending launch of Google’s MVNO service (Mobile Virtual Network Operator, for those of us not in the traditional telecom industry), I think back to the Techonomy session "A Future Without Industries." Google was once easily defined by their core search-engine product, but with its expansion into everything from robotics to glucose-monitoring contact lenses to connected thermostats, it’s hard to put Google into any one box. This isn’t Google’s first connectivity project. Their Google Fiber initiative is looking to redefine Internet and TV in the home. Read more at Mobile World Live

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

As anticipation grows around the impending launch of Google’s MVNO service (Mobile Virtual Network Operator, for those of us not in the traditional telecom industry), I think back to the Techonomy session “A Future Without Industries.” Google was once easily defined by their core search-engine product, but with its expansion into everything from robotics to glucose-monitoring contact lenses to connected thermostats, it’s hard to put Google into any one box. This isn’t Google’s first connectivity project. Their Google Fiber initiative is looking to redefine Internet and TV in the home. While Fiber is operating in only three cities, it has set the bar for cable and Internet providers. As an MVNO, Google will leverage the mobile infrastructure deployed by other major carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile, and will differentiate its services with programs like billing based on actual data usage and Wi-Fi calling.

Read more at Mobile World Live

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Great Short “Bio” Videos from Techonomy’s Chief Program Officer http://techonomy.com/2015/04/great-short-bio-videos-from-techonomys-chief-program-officer/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/great-short-bio-videos-from-techonomys-chief-program-officer/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 12:01:14 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21286 As we wrapped our second Techonomy Bio conference a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking about how many interesting “bio” related 180s we've produced in recent years. Our “180° Talks” are three-minute presentations in which the speaker aims to change the audience’s mind about a generally accepted paradigm, or tells us about something they’ve reversed their thinking about. My all time favourite is from Techonomy 2011. Andrew Hessel, then at Singularity University and now at Autodesk, spoke about biotech, procreation, computer-assisted genetic design, and his decision to get a vasectomy.

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As we wrapped our second Techonomy Bio conference a couple of weeks ago, it got me thinking about how many interesting “bio” related 180s we’ve produced in recent years. Our “180° Talks” are three-minute presentations in which the speaker aims to change the audience’s mind about a generally accepted paradigm, or tells us about something they’ve reversed their thinking about.

My all time favourite is from Techonomy 2011. Andrew Hessel, then at Singularity University and now at Autodesk, spoke about biotech, procreation, computer-assisted genetic design, and his decision to get a vasectomy. It’s now 2015 and Andrew is the very proud father of a beautiful baby girl. He’s done a 180 on his 180 … bringing us full circle in the story of life, I guess. Andrew helped get us started on our bio journey, and has spoken on a number of Techonomy sessions over the years, including Life 2.0 at TE13 with Stewart Brand and Eri Gentry, and his talk “Better, Faster, Cheaper” at TE Bio 2014.

Another fantastic 180 came from David Haussler of UC Santa Cruz at Techonomy 2012. In his “Geek-Powered Cancer Research” David talks about cancer as a “digital disease” with a “digital cure” and how a common repository of sequenced genomes can be a crucial component in the war against cancer.

Ownership of personal data, genetic or otherwise, is of course a complicated topic. For a deeper dive, look at the video or transcript of the “Who Owns Your Genetic Data?” session from last month’s TE Bio. If you don’t have time to watch the whole 50-minute session or read the transcript, skip to the end where moderator Meredith Salisbury asks panelists if they would recommend consumers get their genome sequenced. On a panel of five, somehow there was a 50/50 result.

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Your Next Prescription Could Be a Genome Sequence http://techonomy.com/2015/04/your-next-prescription-could-be-a-genome-sequence/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/your-next-prescription-could-be-a-genome-sequence/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 19:29:54 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21283 At Advances in Genome Biology and Technology, a conference for genomic scientists held earlier this year, one speaker told attendees that the use of genome sequencing to improve patient care is no longer a far-off goal—it’s happening today. While you won’t encounter genome sequencing on an average visit to the ER, there are certain clinical areas where this technology has indeed become routine: cancer, pediatric care, the diagnosis and treatment of ultra rare diseases, and a few others.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

At Advances in Genome Biology and Technology, a conference for genomic scientists held earlier this year, one speaker told attendees that the use of genome sequencing to improve patient care is no longer a far-off goal—it’s happening today. While you won’t encounter genome sequencing on an average visit to the ER, there are certain clinical areas where this technology has indeed become routine: cancer, pediatric care, the diagnosis and treatment of ultra rare diseases, and a few others.

During that same conference, other scientists and doctors recounted impressive cases, from leukemia patients whose cancer was accurately monitored with sequencing to epilepsy patients whose symptoms were successfully treated with a normally unrelated medication chosen because of DNA data. An infant with life-threatening liver failure was restored to health after emergency genome sequencing pinpointed the problem.

By now, most people are familiar with at least one amazing story of a patient whose dismal prognosis was turned around by information gleaned from genome sequencing. Just a few years ago, those of us in the genomics field could easily have named almost every patient with this kind of success story. What’s remarkable is how rapidly the field has gone from affecting a handful of extraordinary cases to regular use for many thousands of cases each year.

To understand this rapid transition, I reached out to Gregory Tsongalis, a pathology professor and translational research expert at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. Tsongalis and his team had just hit a milestone: sequencing genes of their 1,000th cancer patient. “We’re really past the point of ‘Yeah, this might be cool,’” he told me. “It’s something that we do routinely.” And this isn’t just academic science, either: the sequencing data is regularly used by oncologists at the hospital to tailor patient therapies.

Tsongalis says the increase in clinical sequencing for cancer has been driven both by therapies meant only for patients with tumors having certain genetic markers and by the introduction of a new generation of reliable, high-capacity DNA sequencers. “I don’t think we’ve had as powerful a technology as next-generation sequencing, ever,” he says. Compared to the DNA sequencers used in the Human Genome Project just two decades ago, today’s technology can produce exponentially more data in a fraction of the time, analyzing each piece of data in a genome repeatedly for unprecedented accuracy.

Databases of genetic variants and how they relate to disease have been built up significantly in recent years; Tsongalis credits that with dramatically advancing the clinical utility of DNA data. As labs around the world share such information, scientists, clinicians, and patients everywhere get the benefit of more accurate genome interpretations.

Looking ahead, Tsongalis sees every indication that genome sequencing will become a mainstay in hospitals, and he thinks advances in the field will keep pouring in. In the next few years, he anticipates changes to DNA sequencing platforms that will reduce time and cost needed to read a genome. “We’ll be able to do a lot more sequencing with a lot less effort,” he predicts. The actual sequencing will become trivial, he adds, and development efforts will shift almost entirely to building better and more automated genetic interpretation tools.

Back at the scientific conference, the speaker who talked about the infant with liver failure—Stephen Kingsmore from Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo.—noted, unsurprisingly, that waiting until a patient is in crisis to do the genome sequencing is not ideal. For optimal care, he suggested it would be better to sequence a person’s genome at birth so that information could be readily available when a problem does arise.

Back in the days of the Human Genome Project, talking about a future where every baby’s genome would be sequenced was the hallmark of a visionary, or a crackpot. (Or both.) With technology moving faster and faster in this field, that vision is becoming very close to reality.

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How Techonomy Bio Inspired My Southeast Asian Healthcare Journey http://techonomy.com/2015/04/how-techonomy-bio-inspired-my-southeast-asian-healthcare-journey/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/how-techonomy-bio-inspired-my-southeast-asian-healthcare-journey/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 16:18:29 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21264 Last year, I watched the inaugural Techonomy Bio conference from a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. At the time, I was working on my first healthcare consulting project—a market research study for German medical device manufacturers interested in Vietnam. I spent my days interviewing suppliers, distributors, purchasers, regulators, and other stakeholders, trying to make sense of the snarled Vietnamese healthcare system. Due to the time difference between Vietnam and America, I couldn’t catch the live webcast of the conference, but in the week after the event, I ended each day by kicking up my feet and watching video footage of the 2014 conference sessions on my laptop. Watching those videos hammered home the fact that in both developed and developing countries, much of modern healthcare is fundamentally broken.

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A sign for a Thai pharmacy. (Photo by Will Greene)

Many pharmacies in Thailand and other emerging markets lack modern technology. (Photo by Will Greene)

Last year, I watched the inaugural Techonomy Bio conference from a hotel in Ho Chi Minh City. At the time, I was working on my first healthcare consulting project—a market research study for German medical device manufacturers interested in Vietnam. I spent my days interviewing suppliers, distributors, purchasers, regulators, and other stakeholders, trying to make sense of the snarled Vietnamese healthcare system. Where was the opportunity for new, high-quality equipment in a country with limited resources? It was a challenging question.

Due to the time difference between Vietnam and America, I couldn’t catch the live webcast of the conference, but in the week after the event, I ended each day by kicking up my feet and watching video footage of the 2014 conference sessions on my laptop. My mom was visiting that week, so it became something of a parent-child bonding ritual as well. She spent more than a decade as a rehabilitation counselor for methadone patients on Long Island, where she frequently struggled with all the bureaucratic hassles and inefficiencies of modern healthcare, so she shared my interest in healthcare innovation and reform.

Watching those videos hammered home a fact that both of us already knew: in both developed and developing countries, much of modern healthcare is fundamentally broken. What we didn’t know was the extent to which innovations at the intersection of IT, biotech, and life sciences held potential to improve the situation everywhere. It was captivating, and also reassuring, since I think we both longed to feel safer, healthier, and better served by these two very different healthcare systems. Yet it also felt somewhat abstract. How would we, as regular health consumers, actually experience the benefits that were being discussed?

Inspired by the conference and the questions it raised, I soon found myself immersed in news and research about digital healthcare trends. I was particularly interested in how digital healthcare was impacting the emerging markets of Southeast Asia, where I’ve been based since 2010. As I dug around on this topic, I started writing for Techonomy about what I saw. Through this research, I also got involved with mClinica, a digital health company that’s using mobile technology to improve access, affordability, and quality of essential medicines in emerging markets.

My research ultimately painted a picture of a promising but underserved market for digital health. Across Southeast Asia, consumer health apps, IT-powered public health tools, health information systems, and other digital services have steadily emerged in recent years, but uptake has been limited by low per-capita health spending, lack of technological sophistication among consumers, and perplexing regulations. Yet development has been lifting incomes throughout the region, so opportunities for investment in health and many other industries are expanding.

Much of this investment is led by the public sector. In March, I wrote about how NGOs are developing innovative tools to improve medical education in emerging markets. In January, I highlighted three NGOs using mobile tech to fight tuberculosis. And in September last year, I wrote about the growing range of software platforms available to NGOs for public health campaigns.

Undoubtedly, such initiatives play an important role in global health, but their long-term sustainability and scalability is uncertain. As countries like Vietnam approach middle-income status, public sector funding tends to dry up and shift to more needy areas. But will improved infrastructure and health practices remain? In many places, that’s an open question.

Private health tech companies, on the other hand, have greater potential to grow as emerging countries do, but there aren’t yet enough of them to address the many pressing Southeast Asian health challenges. Part of the problem is an ongoing shortage of investment and insufficient opportunities for collaboration. Unlike in the United States, Southeast Asia does not have dedicated healthcare accelerator programs like Rock Health or Startup Health. And although tons of venture money has poured into the region for hot tech sectors like e-commerce, investments in digital healthcare have been relatively thin.

Kickstart Ventures, a Philippines-based accelerator and venture fund, deserves mention for its efforts to develop health tech in Southeast Asia. It was an early investor in mClinica, where I’m currently working. It was also an early investor in Medix, a cloud-based clinic management service that builds IT systems for hospitals, clinics, and dental practices. In addition, Kickstart is hosting a series of events about digital health in the Philippines that aim to further build the entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is great, but Kickstart is a rare pioneer.

In light of the opportunities and challenges for digital health in Southeast Asia, I was intrigued by the panel session on Advances, Opportunities, and Challenges at this year’s Techonomy Bio event, which I also watched from a hotel room in Ho Chi Minh City. The session consisted of an unscripted conversation between Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann, CEO of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce and an active healthcare philanthropist.

Benioff and Desmond-Hellmann seemed optimistic about the potential of digital health to improve lives in both developed and developing markets. Although some of this impact will be limited to affluent countries, advances in disease tracking and therapeutics, along with countless other innovations, will power major transformations everywhere. But despite recent progress, they agreed that more interdisciplinary work between experts in IT and healthcare is needed to speed advancements in digital health. They also agreed we need more investment in healthcare data, and tools for managing and analyzing that data effectively.

Better health data is certainly needed in Southeast Asia. While some speakers and audience members at Techonomy Bio complained about electronic medical records in the United States, clinics and pharmacies in many Southeast Asian countries still use paper logbooks and receipts. This reduces service quality and creates huge gaps in health records. That’s one of the reasons I’m now working with mClinica. It is developing digital health platforms that connect pharmacies, doctor’s offices, pharmaceutical companies, and patients in Asia’s emerging markets. As these various stakeholders become connected, the opportunities to improve public health are enormous.

Will Greene serves as director of New Markets for mClinica. He also runs TigerMine Ventures, an advisory firm that helps companies and investors in Southeast Asia.

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Augmented Reality: Enabling Learning Through Rich Context http://techonomy.com/2015/04/augmented-reality-enabling-learning-through-rich-context/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/augmented-reality-enabling-learning-through-rich-context/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 19:16:04 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21258 In his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson envisioned the Metaverse: a three-dimensional manifestation of the Internet in which people interact and collaborate via digitally-constructed avatars. In the decades since, technology has advanced to the point where such a place no longer seems like science fiction. Stephenson’s Metaverse is a virtual reality space, a completely immersive computer-generated experience whose users have minimal ability to interact with the real world. In contrast to this fictional vision is today’s burgeoning field of augmented reality (AR), a technology that superimposes visual information or other data in front of one’s view of the real world.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

In his 1992 novel “Snow Crash,” Neal Stephenson envisioned the Metaverse: a three-dimensional manifestation of the Internet in which people interact and collaborate via digitally-constructed avatars. In the decades since, technology has advanced to the point where such a place no longer seems like science fiction.

Stephenson’s Metaverse is a virtual reality space, a completely immersive computer-generated experience whose users have minimal ability to interact with the real world. In contrast to this fictional vision is today’s burgeoning field of augmented reality (AR), a technology that superimposes visual information or other data in front of one’s view of the real world.

One of the most well-known AR technologies, Google Glass, projects data onto the upper right corner of the wearer’s glasses lens, creating a relatively seamless interaction between that information and reality. Today, such technologies tend to get noticed for either their novelty value or their role in privacy concerns. In the longer term, they can have tremendous potential to change the way we interact with our technology and with each other.

When Google Glass was first released, many analysts focused on its potential to change the way media was created and consumed, viewing it essentially as a head-mounted smart phone. Since then, some people have reacted negatively to use of a device that can constantly film one’s surroundings or relay social media to the wearer in the middle of a conversation. When the devices were used in ways deemed intrusive, users sometimes received negative reactions from others. While the circumstances surrounding these instances of intrusive use may be considered controversial, they seem to have contributed to limiting AR’s potential as an integrated social media tool, at least for the time being.

Perhaps in reaction, the focus on AR has shifted to its role in business—its ability to supplement workers’ perceptive abilities, enhancing efficiency. AR-enabled headsets have shown promise as real-time data translation tools, which can reduce the need for offsite data recording and tabulation. DAQRI Industrial 4D, for example, has developed an AR-integrated hard hat that can superimpose data across the wearer’s field of view for a variety of industrial applications. (DAQRI presented their technology at Techonomy 2014.) Workers can view instructions or maintenance/performance records for a particular piece of equipment, without having to process or reference the information on a separate device. By presenting data in context and in real time, AR has helped make data use less an actuarial process and more a source of immediately actionable information—a kind of conversation.

Generally, the conversational aspect of AR is a fairly recent focus. Many of the use cases exploring the technology’s potential value have to do with streamlining repetitive actions. Improving supply chain processes, reducing waste, and increasing operational efficiency are priorities for most organizations, and AR can help give some companies a substantial edge. From real-time inventory management to maintenance records, AR technologies provide greater detail and more supporting data, which can improve both efficiency and accuracy.

But efficiency is only one component of business competitiveness. Many roles that AR might supplement may soon be usurped by advanced robotics and other forms of automation. What is the value of AR when the people it is supposed to enhance are no longer needed to do the job? More fundamentally, in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world, many people consider increased efficiency secondary to the ability to collectively digest and act on rapid changes—in essence, the ability to learn.

In this scenario, AR is in a position to gain value. Collaboration is the bedrock of innovation, and AR enables us to learn faster by working together. To do so, we typically rely on fundamentally human capabilities—imagination, creativity, genuine insight, and emotional and moral intelligence—that are difficult or impossible to automate. In the same way that AR enables us to use data more deeply, it has the potential to help us communicate more deeply and meaningfully with each other.

Recent developments in AR have improved its ability to help us learn and communicate. Perhaps the most pertinent examples are systems that let users share context remotely. For example, while today’s online learning spaces can connect individuals on a massive scale, they can also limit context. Text, pictures, and video are helpful, but face-to-face interaction is often best at conveying meaning. Recent entrants such as Microsoft’s Hololens and MagicLeap (where author Stephenson serves as “Chief Futurist”) show potential to share more information across greater distances, in a richer context. Hololens, for example, allows people to convene in a remote space by layering holograms over their current reality. By projecting data and 3D object models, and using advanced avatars, two individuals on two different continents could, in theory, discuss how to repair a piece of equipment on Mars as if they were both standing on its surface. As this kind of AR technology reaches maturity, many AR systems will combine the networked capabilities of existing online communication with the rich context of in-person meetings. This is an example of the true value of AR.

This is not to say that AR can’t also be a powerful tool for increasing worker efficiency, or providing effective, context-rich social media interfaces. All of these potential outcomes are complementary benefits of the same mature capabilities. As we pursue more capable, less obtrusive technologies, AR has the ability to greatly change both our work experience and the ways we communicate. More fundamentally, however, as much of the world shifts its emphasis from economic efficiency to effective learning, it’s likely that the utility of AR will follow suit.

John Hagel III, director at Deloitte Consulting LLP, is the co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge based in Silicon Valley. John Seely Brown is the independent co-chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge.

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Beijing Cracks Down on Video and E-Commerce http://techonomy.com/2015/04/beijing-cracks-down-on-video-and-e-commerce/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/beijing-cracks-down-on-video-and-e-commerce/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 13:36:53 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21053 It seems like I write about the latest Internet crackdown far too often these days, as Beijing focuses on a wide range of industries where it wants to clean up what it sees as unhealthy business practices. Another two such crackdowns are in the headlines as we head into spring, one in the scandal-wracked e-commerce space and the other in online video. Both crackdowns actually began earlier, and these latest moves just show the regulators don’t feel that their job is finished yet.

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

It seems like I write about the latest Internet crackdown far too often these days, as Beijing focuses on a wide range of industries where it wants to clean up what it sees as unhealthy business practices. Another two such crackdowns are in the headlines as we head into spring, one in the scandal-wracked e-commerce space and the other in online video. Both crackdowns actually began earlier, and these latest moves just show the regulators don’t feel that their job is finished yet.

Of course it’s a slight oversimplification to say this broader series of crackdowns is coming from a single source, since the commerce regulator has been the main driver behind the e-commerce crackdown and the broadcasting and publishing regulator is behind the video clean-up. But those two concurrent campaigns, along with other similar ones, probably underscore a recent resolve by central leaders in Beijing to clean up a Chinese business landscape that’s often riddled with corrupt and illegal practices.

This kind of clean-up happens periodically in China in many different sectors, and is one of the major risks of doing business in the market. A similar clean-up nearly a decade ago in the then-vibrant business of services tied to mobile texting created a crisis for Internet pioneers Sina, Sohu, and NetEase, and ultimately forced them to radically change their business models.

The latest crackdown in online video may not have as catastrophic an effect on names like Youku Tudou and Baidu’s iQiyi, but it will certainly create some short-term disturbances in their business. New reports say the regulator has fined Youku, iQiyi, and Tencent, among others, for hosting content on their video sites that contains pornography and violent content that can be harmful to young people.

In this case the offensive material appears to be mostly Japanese cartoons, and the reports say the Chinese sites will be subject to stricter rules relating to foreign content on their sites starting this week. The regulator has actually been taking steps to limit foreign content on the video sites for about a year now, and perhaps these new rules will finally add some clarity to the market. Ultimately the policy will almost certainly reduce the amount of foreign programs on video sites, but at least some clear new guidelines will help the companies to better forecast and regulate their own business.

Next there’s the e-commerce crackdown, which has also been happening for a while as the regulator tries to clean up a landscape filled with aggressive and misleading sales practices and fake goods. The campaign kicked into high gear earlier this year when the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) got into a high-profile spat with sector leader Alibaba over the large number of fake goods being traded over its popular Taobao C2C site.

Now the latest reports are saying the Ministry of Commerce, which is separate from the SAIC, has just announced it is embarking on a campaign to end practices that allow online sellers to exaggerate things like their customer ratings and sales volumes. It appears to be formalizing the move with the creation of a draft law that could be similar to the consumer protection law rolled out last year, also aimed at protecting online shoppers.

Like the video clean-up, this latest move certainly won’t be good for the short-term business of e-commerce firms, especially ones like Alibaba that rely heavily on third-party sellers that are often the source of exaggerated claims and fake products. I suspect this new move marks the start of what will become a long-term clean-up of the e-commerce space, which could dampen growth for Alibaba and other major players but will ultimately benefit everyone by creating a healthier business climate.

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Why Starbucks Should Be Talking About Race http://techonomy.com/2015/04/why-starbucks-should-be-talking-about-race/ http://techonomy.com/2015/04/why-starbucks-should-be-talking-about-race/#comments Wed, 01 Apr 2015 14:32:21 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21039 Starbucks is in the crosshairs. How dare it ask its employees, customers, and America to discuss the role of race and racism in American society? The company recently began a project it calls "Race Together," in partnership with USA Today, aiming to begin a lengthy process of discussion and reflection on the inequities and distortions in American society, and even in the minds of all of us. What right does it have to do that? Hypocrisy! cry the critics. The pushback has been brutal, especially on Twitter, where extended and respectful discussion is almost impossible. Starbucks is being wrongly vilified. Why is it so hard for all these cavilers to accept the possibility that the company realizes its employment numbers are unequal and inappropriate, by any impartial moral standard?

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(Image via Shutterstock)

(Image via Shutterstock)

Starbucks is in the crosshairs. How dare it ask its employees, customers, and America to discuss the role of race and racism in American society? The company recently began a project it calls “Race Together,” in partnership with USA Today, aiming to begin a lengthy process of discussion and reflection on the inequities and distortions in American society, and even in the minds of all of us. What right does it have to do that? Hypocrisy! cry the critics, including here on LinkedIn.

The pushback has been brutal, especially on Twitter, where extended and respectful discussion is almost impossible. (How can you have nuanced arguments when each statement is limited to a mere 140 characters and comments only erratically get juxtaposed?) Almost all the articles about the controversy (for instance here in The New York Times and here in Rolling Stone) make reference to how company spokesman Corey DuBrowa turned off his Twitter account in the face of the unceasing opprobrium. This typical tweet was featured in Tai Tran’s LinkedIn story as an example of the “failure” of the initiative: “If you wanna #RaceTogether, let’s talk about how many POC [people of color] you employ in corporate, Starbucks? Who does your PR? Your legal work?”

Starbucks is being wrongly vilified. Why is it so hard for all these cavilers to accept the possibility that the company realizes its employment numbers are unequal and inappropriate, by any impartial moral standard? Apparently they find it impossible to believe the company could actually want to rectify this inequity. Of course Starbucks is run by white people and has a lot of black and other non-white people working at the entry level. This is a giant American corporation. Look around at every other service company. It’s very difficult to find any for which this is not true. It is a reflection of American society and its own deep-seated inequities.

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and USA Today editor Larry Kramer want to precipitate a dialogue about all of that. The pushback against Starbucks, however unpleasant, rude, and angry it may be, is apparently how such a dialogue begins. So be it. This is not an easy topic.

Maybe so-called activists believe that by standing outside and shouting they will effect change in companies. There’s nothing wrong with standing outside and shouting. But for real change to get started it helps to have leadership that is convinced something is wrong and is committed to the uncomfortable process of shifting power and prerogatives. I don’t know for sure that Howard Schultz is ready for that. But if he didn’t realize that a likely consequence of such a campaign would be to put the spotlight on racial disparities inside Starbucks itself then he’s a lot more naive than I thought. (I am slightly acquainted with Schultz, who co-chairs The Markle Foundation ReWork America Initiative, for America’s economic future in a networked world, of which I am a member. I have not discussed Race Together with him.)

Starbucks has become a kind of “town square” for many, a place where people hang out, plug in, turn on (their wi-fi), nurse lattes, and have conversations. That’s a big part of how Starbucks sees itself. A lot of different kinds of people pass through those stores in a day. It’s one of the reasons why this company inaugurated this edgy discussion, rather than the many others whose racial patterns are as bad or worse.

Whether we like it or not, today a preponderance of economic and, yes, political power is held by companies. Very frequently they use that political power in ways that damage our country and our common fabric, like when they secretly fund mean-spirited political action campaigns, work to undermine environmental regulation, or fight increases in the minimum wage. But if a company decides instead to step up and take a stance on a controversial matter of national import, and subject itself to the inevitable scrutiny and criticism, that’s laudable.

I suspect much of the anti-Starbucks animus is really an animus against big companies in general. There is a widely-prevailing view that they serve only their own interests and perpetuate, rather than address, systemic inequality and racism, among other sins. Way too often all that is true. But anti-corporatism is its own kind of mechanical bias. In reality, companies are as diverse as the human beings that lead them and work in them. That isn’t diverse enough. But increasingly, effective corporate leaders are recognizing that as a nation and as a planet we face intractable problems that all of us—in and out of business—must face and address. Those corporate leaders who do more than just seek to increase profit are stepping into social issues because they recognize that how their companies are perceived will determine whether they will have the right to operate in future. Perceptions matter, and doing the right thing improves perceptions. If Starbucks is in fact worse than other companies, I’d like to hear which are the better ones. Let’s give them a spotlight.

Yes, Starbucks should have a more diverse management team. The racial (and gender) diversity of our nation ought to be reflected throughout its ranks. That’s also true of just about every major American company. Young people of color across the country ought to have more options for education, training, and employment. It is a scandal that so few services are available in many minority neighborhoods. (For instance, before a Whole Foods Market recently opened in downtown Detroit, there was not a single full-scale grocery in the entire—mostly black—city.) All those angry people should direct some of their wrath at the innumerable other CEOs who each year take tens of millions of dollars in pay back to their gated communities and mostly-white neighborhoods, but who don’t speak up about inequality and racism. Starbucks, meanwhile, as part of its project pledges to open more stores in underserved urban areas.

The necessary measures to address systemic racism and pernicious systems of inequality will go way beyond having more dialogue. We have to look at really hard things like the way we fund public schools with property taxes, which enables the already privileged in wealthy areas to pass along that privilege to their children. Or how colleges and universities give preference to the children of alumni. Or how interviewers for jobs, told that an applicant is white or black, will often rate the exact same application radically differently. (That last fact is reported in a broadsheet that Starbucks distributed at its stores as part of the Race Together campaign, along with other damning statistics and personal testimonies about unequal treatment people have experienced because of their race.)

The reason I’m discussing all this here and now is because one company accepted the risks and took on the responsibility to prod us into further dialogue. It’s going to take a lot more than Starbucks’ project to enable us to make real progress in our racially-divided nation. But a small step is a lot better than no steps at all.

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Meat Without Animals and Sequencing the Planet at Techonomy Bio http://techonomy.com/2015/03/meat-without-animals-and-sequencing-the-planet-at-techonomy-bio/ http://techonomy.com/2015/03/meat-without-animals-and-sequencing-the-planet-at-techonomy-bio/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 19:08:10 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21010 The over 200 people who descended on the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley last week for the second annual Techonomy Bio event learned we were heading toward growing meat, cell phones, and houses. They learned as well that we are in a renaissance of progress in human health. But they also heard thoughts on why we have more allergies and worries about how the public thinks about science. The daylong program ranged from stem cells and bio-architecture to venture capital and public opinion about science, but the common thread was the intersection of progress in the dual realms of life science and information technology. As speakers noted throughout the day, the intersection of big data and biology has helped create a field ripe for breakthroughs.

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(Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Genomic veterans, tech entrepreneurs, biotech startup executives, investors, medical professionals, and others gather for Techonomy Bio, March 25 at the Computer History Museum. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

The over 200 people who descended on the Computer History Museum in the heart of Silicon Valley last week for the second annual Techonomy Bio event learned we were heading toward growing meat, cell phones, and houses. They learned as well that we are in a renaissance of progress in human health. But they also heard thoughts on why we have more allergies and worries about how the public thinks about science.

The daylong program ranged from stem cells and bio-architecture to venture capital and public opinion about science, but the common thread was the intersection of progress in the dual realms of life science and information technology. As speakers noted throughout the day, the intersection of big data and biology has helped create a field ripe for breakthroughs.

Attendees included genomic veterans, tech entrepreneurs, biotech startup executives, investors, medical professionals, and others. “I go to tons of biotech events, including those I organize myself, and usually I hang out a lot in the hallways. This is the first one I’ve gone to that I don’t want to miss a minute of the program,” said one industry veteran. There were certainly lots of conversations in the corridors of the museum’s airy second floor, but virtually everyone at the event was there to learn something new. And most discovered there were things happening in life sciences they didn’t know were possible. Punctuating the program throughout the day, executives from startups funded by Peter Thiel’s Breakout Labs gave short, fast-paced talks about a range of efforts: growing bone from stem cells, linking Alzheimer’s disease to bacterial infection, developing a patch to monitor the human gut and transmit results to a smartphone, and quantifying stress for healthier living.

A key theme of the day was that a shift from artisan to factory scale is taking place across many areas in life sciences. The opening panel kicked off with Drew Endy’s bold proclamation that synthetic biologists will literally be able to grow cell phones within two or three decades. Things got only more audacious from there. Other examples of the shift included bio-based production of physical bricks (with help from bacteria or mushrooms) and other materials for sustainable architecture, as well as lab-created meat and leather products to eliminate the need to kill animals. In the closing session, Sue Desmond-Hellmann from the Gates Foundation told Marc Benioff that bespoke therapies may seem out of reach, but that this kind of targeted medicine is indeed possible in the not-too-distant future. We may have customized medicine at scale, around the world.

The flip side of the optimistic theme of endless possibility is the need to better understand and to recognize our responsibility for changes we introduce to the environment, humans, or other species. Juan Enriquez, author of a new book entitled “Evolving Ourselves,” told Techonomy’s David Kirkpatrick that we have created a parallel evolutionary system in which our interests often override natural selection. His examples ranged from IVF babies to antibiotic-laden animals. We must work to better understand what may result from these actions, particularly over the long term, and take steps to ameliorate unintended negative consequences, he said. We get longer lives, but we also get developments like huge increases in people with allergies. A separate session included journalists and media leaders exploring the complex and increasingly fraught interaction between scientists and the public.

Another topic that wove through several sessions was consumer-driven health. Several speakers talked about digital health and the critical need for developers to improve how results from such devices can be interpreted and shared with physicians. Other speakers drove home the point that healthcare needs better models to obtain consent and to manage sharing of increasingly complex data like genetic information. But during audience Q&A, several attendees from traditional healthcare organizations emphasized that so far physicians see little reason to trust or use consumer-generated information from health apps or wearable devices.

Here’s a quick glimpse of Techonomy Bio moments that had attendees buzzing most:

  • Drew Endy said that if we haven’t sequenced literally everything in the world by 2090, “we’ve failed.”
  • Greg Simon from Poliwogg made a plea to tech developers to stop trying to add to our lifespan and to focus instead on letting us live well at home until we die.
  • Jeanne Loring of the Scripps Research Institute recounted the story of a patient going to an unregulated stem cell clinic and having adult stem cells injected around her eyes. When she began hearing a clicking sound each time she blinked, she went to a doctor and learned that the stem cells had turned her eyelids to bone.
  • Juan Enriquez says that after five major extinction events in Earth’s history, human survival depends on our ability to get off this planet.

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Five Points to Improve Public Discourse on Science http://techonomy.com/2015/03/five-points-for-improving-public-discourse-on-science-and-tech/ http://techonomy.com/2015/03/five-points-for-improving-public-discourse-on-science-and-tech/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 16:44:03 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=21007 Innovation in science and technology is moving at an unprecedented pace. Five years ago, how many of us had conceived of bones that grow themselves, self-driving cars, or "mental prosthetics"? These advancements bring tremendous promise, but many also bring daunting potential threats. Questions about unethical use, accidents, privacy/security breaches, and safety all rightly raise concern. But clear, open-minded public debate around technological and scientific topics is sorely lacking. Large gaps in knowledge and unchecked emotions are keeping us from rational conversations about merits and risks.

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At Techonomy Bio 2015, attendees watch panelists (from left) Theral Timpson, Erika Check Hayden, Kristen Bole, Ryan Bethencourt, and Ellen Jorgensen speak at a session entitled "Science, Fear, and the Communication Game." (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

At Techonomy Bio 2015, attendees watch panelists (from left) Theral Timpson, Erika Check Hayden, Kristen Bole, Ryan Bethencourt, and Ellen Jorgensen speak at a session entitled “Science, Fear, and the Communication Game.” (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Innovation in science and technology is moving at a pace unprecedented in history. Every month seems to introduce vast new frontiers. Five years ago, how many of us had conceived of living buildings made of mushroom, bones that grow themselves, self-driving cars, or “mental prosthetics”?

These advancements bring tremendous promise for nearly every facet of life, but many also bring daunting potential threats. Questions about unethical use, accidents, privacy/security breaches, and safety all rightly raise concern. In recent months, we’ve heard some of our most respected leaders voice their anxieties, from Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking on artificial intelligence to a group of leading scientists calling for a moratorium on a new genome editing technique.

The global public feels the same way. Respondents in Edelman’s 2015 Annual Trust Barometer consider the pace of development in business and industry to be “too fast” by a 2:1 margin, and make strong calls for more regulation across almost every industry.

Clear, direct, open-minded public debate around technological and scientific topics is sorely lacking. Large gaps in knowledge, fueled by unchecked emotion, are keeping us from having rational conversations about genuine merits and risks. We see this everywhere from the anti-vaccine movement that fed the recent measles outbreak in California to the agricultural genetics melee—in which 82 percent of the public supports mandatory labels on GMOs in their food but 80 percent also support mandatory labels of food containing DNA. We’re having to make relatively sophisticated judgments on policy without understanding the fundamentals of science.

One of the panels at last week’s Techonomy Bio conference in Mountain View, Calif., explored the topic of how to better communicate about science and technology for more useful public discourse. Techonomy convened a group of science and tech writers, influencers and communicators to talk about the challenges in helping to educate and support a general public facing nuanced, complex topics. The key points that emerged reflected many of Edelman’s findings about trust, along with a blend of common sense, inspired thought and experience:

  • The source of information matters. The public is more likely to trust a respected academic or expert than a corporate spokesperson.
  • People respond well to openness and dislike surprises. Better to spell out risks (and ways to mitigate them) with a new development than to focus only on the positive and “hope for the best.”
  • From preschool through adulthood, improving scientific literacy is essential. We need to understand the basics about the world, our bodies, and how things work. Equally important, we need to know how to ask questions, interpret findings and seek context.
  • Word choice elicits powerful emotion. No surprise that it’s best to avoid referring to terms (e.g. “Frankenfoods”) that create fear and drama without adding substance.
  • We need more experts, academics, and leaders who care deeply about, and are skilled at, translating complex technical issues into meaningful and approachable public discussions.

If we can grow buildings, bones, and biofuels, I believe we can get to a more educated, civil public discourse around issues of tech and science. The key is for society to become much more comfortable with asking questions and building context without rushing to a polarized and potentially misinformed position. Techonomy panelist and UCSF biotech writer Kristen Bole posed our collective challenge succinctly: “How do we get the public to ask questions more effectively?”

It’s all about opening minds.

Maria Amundson is global sector chair of Technology at Edelman, which was a Techonomy Bio partner.

partner-insights

 

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As Consumers Access Health Data, a New Market Emerges http://techonomy.com/2015/03/as-consumers-access-own-health-data-market-for-interpreting-it-will-grow/ http://techonomy.com/2015/03/as-consumers-access-own-health-data-market-for-interpreting-it-will-grow/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 16:23:29 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=20992 Whether by gathering data from your gut, your womb, or your head, new digital devices are designed to track wellness in ways that could transform how individuals manage their own health. Four leaders of the emerging “Internet of Bio Things” market joined Buzzfeed News reporter Stephanie Lee on stage at Techonomy Bio 2015 for a discussion about how they aim to improve consumer access to health data, and what will render that data more than just a curiosity, and truly useful.

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From left, Stephanie Lee, Jennifer Tye, Walter De Brouwer, Ajay Royyuru, and Steve Axelrod. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

From left, Stephanie Lee, Jennifer Tye, Walter De Brouwer, Ajay Royyuru, and Steve Axelrod. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Whether by gathering data from your gut, your womb, or your head, new digital devices are designed to track wellness in ways that could transform how individuals manage their own health. Four leaders of the emerging “Internet of Bio Things” market joined Buzzfeed News reporter Stephanie Lee on stage at Techonomy Bio 2015 for a discussion about how they aim to improve consumer access to health data, and what will render that data more than just a curiosity, and truly useful.

Jennifer Tye, VP of Partnerships & Marketing at the San Francisco data science company Glow, said the mobile apps her team offers help women track their menstrual cycles and pregnancies. By gathering customer data, Glow also hopes to increase knowledge about women’s reproductive health to improve outcomes and reduce costs for women trying to conceive and have healthy, full-term pregnancies.

Walter De Brouwer, founder and CEO of Scanadu, a NASA Ames-research center-based medical technology company, is competing for the Tricorder XPrize, which will be awarded to the device that can diagnose patients as well as or better than a panel of board certified physicians could. De Brouwer said Scanadu’s mission is “to give 7 billion people access to quality healthcare on their smartphone.” He said the handheld device, which takes measurements when the patient puts hand to head, could replace emergency room visits for checking vital signs or conducting urine analysis.

Steve Axelrod, a Ph.D. physicist who is CEO of G-Tech Medical, called his company’s invention “an EKG for the gut.” Patients wear the Bluetooth-enabled patch for three days. Connected wirelessly to a smartphone, it measures electrical signals from the stomach, small intestine, and colon, and could precede or complement CT-scans and colonoscopies for the early diagnosis of gastrointestinal diseases and disorders. The device, said Axelrod, can put data about the patient’s GI rhythmic activity, strength, and frequency into a report that enables the physician to say, “this is where we think your pain is coming from and we can target treatment.” He added, “We’re turning data into something actionable.”

Each of these technologies points to how “biology has steadily become an information science,” said Ajay Royyuru, head of the Computational Biology Center at IBM Research. “Genomics is just the first frontier, but steadily we are transforming observational aspects of biology to be more and more data driven. That makes tech companies very excited about this transformation of natural scientific discipline into information science.”

Royyuru described one IBM project that will analyze non-human DNA to impact human health. “We’re looking at the microbiome as a portal into food safety,” he said. “From where it is produced on the farm to how it is harvested, transported, packed, stored, and put on our table, the food—the ingredient—comes with the microbiome that surrounds it through all those steps … through the entire supply chain.”

The microbiome, he said, could serve “as a sentinel to tell us something has changed in that food” in order to detect contamination. “That’s one example of how data-driven science is going to touch on all aspects of not just the science but how we consume,” he said.

“How to make sense of all this data?” asked Lee. “That’s the biggest challenge, said Axelrod. “You come up with a device or means of collecting the data, you see a signal, and the investor says, ‘Nice. So what? How does this change what a physician does?’” If a technology does not hold the promise to influence the diagnostician’s work some significant percentage of the time, then “it’s just a nice science project,” he said.

Royyuru agreed: “Translating data into actionable insight is what the outcome of all this analysis has to be.”

Lee noted that the increasing availability of such devices will change the doctor-patient relationship. Tye said they could even give new meaning to the term ‘patient.’ Glow, she said, delivers targeted information to individual patients in a timely manner—before their doctor’s appointment, for instance, or at a specific time of the month. “Based on their cycle and the data they’re entering, we could flag polycystic ovarian syndrome or endometriosis,” and suggest they speak to their physician about it, Tye said.

De Brouwer said his company’s surveys of 100,000 consumers revealed that people want their own data on their own devices. “They want to go to the doctor with a point of view, and they want interpretation.”

As consumers gain access to that information, the market for interpretation will grow, he said. Rather than disempower medical professionals, De Brouwer said, such a change would “elevate the doctor from blue collar to white collar” and improve the healthcare system’s efficiency.

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Marc Benioff and Gates Foundation’s Desmond-Hellmann Agree: Digital Health So Far Is Pitiful http://techonomy.com/2015/03/a-software-chairman-and-a-public-health-ceo-agree-the-pace-of-digital-health-is-pitiful/ http://techonomy.com/2015/03/a-software-chairman-and-a-public-health-ceo-agree-the-pace-of-digital-health-is-pitiful/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 11:45:18 +0000 http://techonomy.com/?p=20979 For an onstage conversation at Techonomy Bio 2015 about how science is advancing human progress around the world and where the greatest challenges still remain, Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Marc Benioff might seem an unlikely pair. She’s an oncologist accomplished in biotech, academia, and, now, the nonprofit sector as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Benioff is chairman of the customer relationship management software company Salesforce.com. But, as the two agreed here on Wednesday, more crossover between his sector—information technology—and hers—healthcare—are exactly what’s needed for great leaps forward in life sciences.

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Marc Benioff and Sue Desmond-Hellman appear onstage together at Techonomy Bio 2015. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

Marc Benioff and Sue Desmond-Hellman appear onstage together at Techonomy Bio 2015. (Photo by Rebecca Greenfield)

For an onstage conversation at Techonomy Bio 2015 about how science is advancing human progress around the world and where the greatest challenges still remain, Susan Desmond-Hellmann and Marc Benioff might seem an unlikely pair. She’s an oncologist accomplished in biotech, academia, and, now, the nonprofit sector as CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Benioff is chairman of the customer relationship management software company Salesforce.com. But, as the two agreed here on Wednesday, more crossover between his sector—information technology—and hers—healthcare—are exactly what’s needed for great leaps forward in life sciences.

The duo are long-time collaborators. In her previous role as chancellor of the University of California, San Francisco, Desmond-Hellmann worked with Benioff to establish a children’s hospital with a $200 million gift he and his wife Lynne bestowed. And in the year since Desmond-Hellmann took the helm at the Gates Foundation, the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals announced a $100 million 10-year global initiative, funded jointly by the Benioffs and the Gates, to address the epidemic of premature birth.

But on the topics of digital healthcare and bespoke medical treatments, Benioff and Desmond-Hellmann covered new territory, and agreed that more must be invested and done to advance the field. “There is a lot of exciting stuff happening in biotech and IT, and these two things are accelerating. We need to bring them together to get the next breakthrough,” said Benioff.

He and Desmond-Hellmann share frustration over the pace of the convergence. “The gap between … IT and life sciences is kind of pitiful,” Desmond-Hellmann said. “It feels like we’re just at the start of it, there’s so much more we can and should do.”

For instance, she drew a comparison between the shallow depth of biological information available to type 2 diabetes patients versus anyone’s ability to use Google map to easily navigate the world. Or, she noted, bank customers can deposit checks and move money without stepping foot in a bank, but “I have to go to a doctor to do everything.” Said Desmond-Hellmann, “When people see that what’s possible in daily life with IT is not possible with health it’s frustrating. Our best just isn’t good enough.”

While she hailed great advances in cancer product development and cancer immunotherapy—”we’re talking about amazing, magnificent cures for diseases we’ve never been able to touch before. … That’s real and patients are benefiting”—Desmond-Hellmann said it’s is tougher to determine the benefits of digital health yet to patients, society, or business models. “Is someone really making money at scale off digital health? Reasonable people can criticize digital health,” she said.

Benioff lamented a sector-wide lack of investment in data. Referring to Techonomy Bio speaker Richard Socher, CTO at MetaMind, Benioff said, “He is doing work in deep learning. … To take a series of scans like mammograms and to run them at scale and use his service to predict or guide or assist radiologists in determining what is on the screen they’re looking at is a very good use-case for data. But we can’t do it because we don’t have banks of standardized images that have been created in the right ways with the right level of annotation that gives us the ability to use very strong artificial intelligence and deep learning software that should give us predictive capability.”

Desmond-Hellmann said such situations make clear the need for more common languages in healthcare. “The importance of regulation and data elements and a common language can’t be overstated,” she said. “We have to have some common data elements just like the common elements that made the Internet possible. We have to have standardized data and lots of it and put it into shared databases. Even using the term ‘sharing’ is important to make precision medicine real.”

And both leaders agreed that interdisciplinary skills are more crucial now than ever. Desmond-Hellmann recalled that the term “interdisciplinary” once meant to her “dentists talking to doctors or nurses talking to pharmacists,” but said that today, “the kinds of questions that are important to me when I think of interdisciplinary are much broader and more powerful than the healthcare team.”

The pace of product development in healthcare is another great frustration for the Gates Foundation leader. Recalling her time as director of product development at Genentech, she noted the lag between the discovery of the HER2 oncogene in the late 1980s and Herceptin’s approval in the late 1990s. “I’m not that old, but doing the math, I could only see two more Herceptins in my lifetime,” she said. “That’s awful. That’s not good enough. It can’t be a 20-year horizon.”

Precision medicine and personalized cures hold promise for faster development, however. Desmond-Hellmann said, “Bespoke sounds expensive and futuristic. If you, like me, want to scale things, it sounds nearly impossible. But the work that Carl June [at Penn’s Perelman School] and others are doing to customize immunotherapy for cancer today is bespoke.”

“What if we make that a precision medicine remedy?” she asked. “It may be bespoke for a number of patients, or bespoke in that you manufacture in small cell cultures. But what if you could do it in vivo instead of ex vivo? What if I could do it in you?”

She explained: “The science of vaccines is using mammalian cells—Chinese hamster ovaries—as factories. What if, instead, I use your muscle as a factory? What if I inject a plasmid and you become your own factory for a vaccine? That’s not crazy.”

It’s a possibility that she said the Gates Foundation is interested in. “If you’re in a poor country and have an epidemic and you don’t have a vaccine ready, you wish you had a bespoke vaccine. We all know the flu vaccine this year wasn’t what we wanted it to be. What if instead of customizing a new vaccine every time you have a new pathogen, you could make a bespoke vaccine? When we had a new pathogen we could rapidly make a new one.”

The bottom line for Desmond-Hellmann: “Everything is possible if you can cure people. Everything about how we make, discover, innovate, and manufacture vaccines could be faster and more low cost.”

The post Marc Benioff and Gates Foundation’s Desmond-Hellmann Agree: Digital Health So Far Is Pitiful appeared first on Techonomy.

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