Shocks to The System – Wave Day 2 Keynote

ESO Staff

Imagine a future in which EMS arrives at a scene via jetpack, drones deliver needed supplies and – instead of an ambulance – a modular hospital drives itself to the scene autonomously. Preposterous? Not according to Raymond McCauley, Chair of Digital Biology at Singularity University and our keynote speaker on Day 2 of Wave 2018.

“We’re trying to bring about a revolution – a good revolution,” McCauley said of technology’s impact on healthcare and the world at large.

McCauley and his peers at Singularity University dedicate themselves to investigating and educating people on the impact of what they call “exponential technologies,” tools and approaches that are changing the world at an incredible pace. These include artificial intelligence, genomics and other digital biology methods, virtual reality, robotics and others. In a thought-provoking and often funny 45-minute presentation, McCauley extrapolated from what’s possible today to demonstrate what will be possible in the not too distant future.

The first mapping of the human genome, for instance, cost billions of dollars. According to McCauley the cost plummeted to that of a chest x-ray in 2015 and is well on its way to $100. As this “era of the $100 genome” becomes a reality, treatments can be truly personalized to a specific individual. Invasive procedures such as cancer biopsies or amniocentesis in at-risk pregnancies will become simple blood draws where just a few errant cells can be detected and analyzed. He showed a picture of a prototype DNA sequencing device that fits in the palm of the hand. Imagine having that with you on your next run.

This capability is already changing medicine. McCauley outlined new cancer treatments such as Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell therapy (CAR-T) in which immune cells can be drawn from a patient’s body and tuned up to become “bull dogs” against the specific cancer at hand. These new therapies offer unprecedented hope for battling cancer in fundamentally new ways.

“There’s never a good time to get cancer,” he said. “But this is the best time we’ve ever had.”

Our keynoter shared data on miles driven by autonomous vehicles and the potential to eliminate fatalities caused by human error – the vast majority of driving deaths. He predicted that autonomous cars would dominate auto sales figures within 20 years and also noted that autonomous vehicles would restore independent mobility to those who “can no longer get around or drive on their own.”

However, McCauley was also clear that the autonomous ambulance was unlikely to happen. The amount of judgment and interaction necessary to care for a patient requires human empathy, he noted, and artificial intelligence systems are simply not good at these capabilities. But, he quickly shifted to a vision of entirely new mobile healthcare models such as the self-driving modular hospital that goes where it is needed. Imagine an MRI machine showing up at the same time as EMS.

“Technology is changing everything we do, very fast,” McCauley told the crowd.

Just like ESO brought new digital tools to EMS and hospitals, more innovations are on the way.

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