Mapping Healthcare’s Digital Destiny

By Doug Given

The flagship iteration of the venerated Imec Technology Forum was held in Antwerp last quarter, drawing visionaries from around the world to discuss the future of technology and how innovation is best brought to market in application domains as broad as smart cities, mobility, energy, and of course…health.

Broadly addressing the convergence of nanoelectronics and digital technologies, emissaries from Bell Labs, Cisco, Google, Microsoft Research, Nokia, Qualcomm, Samsung, and Sony, along with Imec experts and leaders in European academic and nonprofit research, presented on a stunning array of advancements at the frontiers of math, physics, material sciences, engineering, miniaturization, computing, and connectivity.

Viewed through the prism of Health2047’s mission to meet healthcare transformation challenges and opportunities, I was struck by several concepts circulating at the forum that are worthy of further reflection:

  • Information security will get worse (for next 3–5 years) before it gets better. Conference consensus indicated profligate first-generation IoT deployments have ushered in true crises, as they have supplied seemingly unlimited attack points. Further, there is a costly and breathtakingly large impact aligned directly to digital health breaches, with stolen records valued at $100 PHR (and rising). Advocacy for much more stringent IoT manufacture and deployment standards, as well as greater use of personal keys, 2-factor authentication, and multi-level security protocols leveraging identifiers such as location tracking were among ameliorating techniques discussed.
  • Neuromorphic computing and AI present the biggest potential frontiers, and speakers discussed how such technologies are giving birth to entirely new architectures and interfaces that will revolutionize human thinking, outcomes, and actions. Hardware and software interplay, issues of latency, bandwidth, wireless and network evolution…all play a part in these new architectures, as do algorithmic innovation. There exists a future solution space stemming from smart semiconductors, which can weave knowledge gold out of data lead, actuating quantum computers (viable by 2025), unhackable security, neuromorphic characteristics, and digital-physical interfaces. Interesting use cases included the development of machine learning training sets that have enabled real-time, nine-language translation capabilities, and AR/VR status video examples that showed remarkable progress in display, camera, and signal processing producing dramatically improved immersive image quality of content.
  • The need for a Digital Geneva Convention may be imminent to constrain government surveillance of citizens, who are increasingly being hacked by nation states in peacetime (consider what the NSA mantra: “collect all, know all, exploit all” means for individuals in the digital age). Big data means bigger breaches and bigger risks to privacy; balancing the needs and rights of individuals, technology companies, governments, and law enforcement requires rethinking architecture and embracing more secure building blocks, particularly in regard to health information, as well as establishing robust auditing of all information access capabilities.

There are staggering challenges in the road ahead, but there are also unimagined possibilities. As is true of every endeavor in the modern era, most of the topics discussed at ITF 2017 will have direct bearing on the practice of medicine and many of these technologies promise to revolutionize productivity in healthcare. The challenge remains for us “healthcare poets” to inform the tech community about the unique priorities and considerations that constrain our sector, and guide the visionaries of the future toward productive implementations that best exploit technological innovation as it continues its rapid ascent.