A blog post by Georges T. Roos – Disruptive Scenarios, Health 2038

23. January 2018 – Georges T. Roos

Nevertheless, I venture a thesis: Health is one of those aspects of life that will be fundamentally different in 2038 from today. I count health next to the next digital revolution and the profound demographic changes to the disruptive futures. By that I mean: These aspects of life would be unrecognizable to a time traveler.

Transhumanists – The harbingers of a new age of health

Ray Kurzweil is considered a techno-visionary and is now Director of Engineering at Google. In the much cited book “The Age of Spiritual Machines,” Kurzweil designs the development of information technology until the time when intelligent machines independently produce even smarter machines – the singularity. It is less well-known that Ray Kurzweil consumes 150 to 200 supplement tablets daily. He hopes to gain lifetime until the technology will be able to digitize the consciousness of a singular human being. Kurzweil is a transhumanist. Transhumanists want to take evolution into their own hands: with the help of pharmacology and implants, gene engineering and brain stimulation, humans should become better than those who have become from nature.

Lethal diseases should be eliminated. Nevertheless, if death were not completely abolished, then at least in the digital world one’s own consciousness should live on. You may dismiss them as spinners – which they probably are in their extreme positions as well. The fact is that artificial spare parts are already available for just under half of the human body. There is even artificial blood, as documented by the Smithsonian Channel’s “The incredibale bionic man”, in which all these parts have been assembled into an artificial being. It is only a matter of time before some of this replacement part will be better than the biological original. For the society of the future this will be a challenge: Should I switch to the better, artificial organ? Or not? Only when the original dismantles, or before? For some, that may sound absurd. But I dare to postulate that Kurzweil and Co. are early signals of a new health paradigm.

How we become more efficient

What society understands by health is subject to change. For a long time it was not enough to be ill to be considered healthy. We may call the paradigm of that time “repair medicine” because, in the presence of a disease, everything is done to repair it. Once the disease was cured, the topic of health disappeared in the background noise and received little attention. In recent decades, this paradigm has become obsolete. Since then it is no longer enough to be free from illnesses.

Increasingly, the guiding principle was how to actively promote one’s own health. Those who do not strive for their own health promotion with sports, healthy nutrition and regular health check-ups today are under pressure to justify themselves. The same is true for companies: it is no longer enough to look after the health of the workforce, for example with protective grids around dangerous machines or special protective clothing for employees. Companies today are also expected to be active partners in the health promotion of their employees. In addition to the pharmaceutical industry, many other sectors are serving the expectations of the new paradigm, which I would call a health culture. The food industry and, of course, the fitness and wellness industry are also doing their part.

As far as the present. The paradigm of the next 20 years is best described as “Human Performance Enhancement”. Many early signs indicate that, in the future, health will revolve around the question of how to become more efficient – physically, mentally and mentally. An early signal, for example, is the increasingly popular self-measurement by mobile apps. A bracelet or data T-shirt equipped with a number of sensors, a “smart” patch or even subcutaneous microchips with sensors include steps, measure stress, indicate blood pressure or blood sugar levels. The data are sent via smartphone for evaluation by underlying algorithms. The user receives the current state of health in real time.

Among the first users of this self-measurement include the techno-freaks athletes and high-risk patients. However, all of these apps will soon be using “ordinary” health to increase their performance. Another early signal I recognize in the growing willingness of younger people, especially with energy drinks, drugs and drugs to increase their performance. While physical doping in sport is socially taboo, the acceptance of sexual and psychological doping is already well advanced.More and more mental doping is coming into fashion now: A study by the Universities of Zurich and Basel shows that every seventh student has ever taken Neuro-Enhancer to pass exams better. Without listing all references to the upcoming paradigm, I add another early signal: the doubling of medically assisted reproduction in Switzerland between 2002 and 2014. Most couples undergo an unfulfilled desire to have children undergoing this procedure. However, more and more medical-assisted reproduction is also in demand to turn off the biological clock. Children yes – but so that they fit into career planning.

Big Data will open the Pandora’s box

Dieser Paradigmenwandel kennzeichnet natürlich einen Wertewandel in Bezug auf Gesundheit und Natürlichkeit. Möglich gemacht wird er allerdings zu grossen Teilen durch den phänomenalen Fortschritt in den Life Sciences wie Biologie, Bioinformatik und Gentechnologie. Die Genschere CRISPR CAS 9 macht das genetische Editieren “kinderleicht” – so leicht, dass es für Jugendliche bereits einen Gentech-Kasten für etwas mehr als 200 US$ gibt, so wie es früher Physik- oder Chemiekästen gab.

Furthermore, disruptive information technologies are driving. The keyword here is convergence: different spheres of science merge and elevate medical possibilities to a new dimension. Take the thread of the new future of medicine on the example of the human genome: Only just $ 1000 costs the sequencing of a human genome. The result is still similar to a dictionary without definitions: what the estimated 25,000 genes really do, we do not know in most cases yet. But what will we discover if we can compare the genetic makeup of millions of people, compare them with their medical records, add lots of lifelong data, and we have technology to generate meaningful hypotheses from all that data?

When we are ready, and that will not be long, we will see a leap in the world of medicine. The technology required to process such huge amounts of data is on the horizon. Some talk about big data, others talk about cognitive computing. In my opinion, it is finally appropriate to use the term “artificial intelligence”. If we also want to name an early signal, it’s Watson. Watson is the name of IBM’s Artificial Intelligence. IBM has presented them to a spectacular show in 2011, in the TV quiz show Jepoardy !, which is about answering knowledge questions. Watson defeated two successful players in this discipline.

The intriguing thing about Watson was the trinity of “understand natural language,” “make hypotheses and then test them” and “learn by themselves”. In the meantime, Watson has moved from play to work. IBM has set up a special department, 2000 engineers on it and launched several pilot projects. Some of these are related to medicine. For example, Watson helps diagnose and treat skin cancer. Watson should also help to massively accelerate the very expensive and lengthy introduction of new drugs. Technologies like Watson will (among other things) expand our knowledge of genetic relationships ever faster.

Disruption in the healthcare industry

In a nutshell, the most important driver that is disrupting the future of the healthcare industry is data. Genomics generates huge amounts of data. Likewise, the mobile self-measurement applications. Data that intelligently combines, will document new insights into the interaction of habits, diseases and changes in performance. We will have a powerful tool in hand that will prove the effectiveness of medicines. There will be drugs that will be tailored to specific genotypes – the so-called personalized medicine. Moreover, artificial intelligence could discover agents that are previously unrecognized.

The key role of data and computing will challenge the pharmaceutical industry in ways that other industries are already seeing today: Facebook is the largest medium in the world, but does not produce content itself. AirBnB is the largest lodging company, but does not own a single property. Uber is the largest taxi company in the world, but does not own any vehicles or chauffeurs. Alibaba is the most valuable detail retailer, but has no stores on its own. The same could happen in the pharmaceutical industry until 2038: IT companies will be among the most important players, even though they have neither patients nor hospitals nor research laboratories. But they will have the gold of tomorrow – the data.

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Georges T. Roos

Futurist & Global Thinker, Founder & CEO of ROOS ThinkTank for Cultural Innovation