Forward-looking Genius Ray Kurzweil Will Show Us the Future

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Ray Kurzweil will address the acceleration of technology in the 21st century and the impacts on healthcare and medicine at this year’s Healthcare Analytics Summit.

When I first heard about Ray Kurzweil, I looked him up on Wikipedia and read superlatives such as “restless genius,” “thinking machine,” “the most fascinating entrepreneur,” and “Edison’s rightful heir.” To say the least, I was intrigued. He struck me as a forward-looking genius, able to accomplish whatever he put his mind to.

Then, I took a look at his TED talk from February 2005, and I saw his genius thinking on full display. The inventor and futurist’s main message was that progress in technology happens not on a linear path, but exponentially. The more technology advances, the faster new technologies develop. According to Kurzweil’s models, the actual paradigm-shift rate—the rate of adopting new ideas—doubles every decade. For example, it took about 50 years for the majority of the population to adopt the telephone; cell phones took eight.

This applies even after a technology has run its course, said Kurzweil, who serves as a director of engineering at Google and has written seven books including The Age of Intelligent Machines and The Singularity Is Near. As engineers start to see the end of one technology’s applications, a new technology is developed that continues the exponential growth. New applications come to market as the price performance of technology makes it possible. Kurzweil noted that this is a universal trend, and it’s true in healthcare technology too. DNA sequencing of HIV took researchers 15 years; they sequenced SARS in 31 days.

We’ve seen this begin to play out in healthcare data. Where before data entry in EMRs seemed like the limit for IT adoption in hospitals, now we’re seeing multiple information systems being combined into enterprise data warehouses. Healthcare information technologies are starting the advance toward better and more predictive analytical capabilities.

Kurzweil makes the case that as we understand our own biology using better scanning and diagnostic technologies, we are able to reverse-engineer the “software programs” that make our bodies run. Technology exists that can go inside a human body and perform therapies for disease or make diagnoses. Researchers tested these blood-cell-sized nano-robots on animals, and cured rats of type 1 diabetes. The nano-device is injected into the bloodstream and releases insulin in a controlled way, effectively curing the disease. No more needle sticks required.

Kurzweil’s thoughts are, as always, pragmatically ahead of their time. While the TED talk took place nearly a decade ago, a number of predictions were right on target. For example, Kurzweil indicated that   computers would grow so small by 2010 they would be embedded into our clothing. We’re not quite there yet, but Google Glass is helping make an honest man of Kurzweil. He also noted that by the 2010, we’d all be old hat at interacting with virtual personalities. So Siri missed her deadline by a couple of years – who’s counting?

Essentially, what struck me when I first listened to Kurzweil speak was his insistence that we would merge with our technology. It’s just one of the fascinating concepts posited by Kurzweil over the years that made me all the more excited to bring him on as a speaker for our Healthcare Analytics Summit in September.

His keynote presentation will be The Acceleration of Technology in the 21st Century: Impacts on Healthcare and Medicine. I think the things he’ll show us in that talk will show us the future of biotechnology in healthcare.

I should add that Ray Kurzweil is just one of our keynote speakers. He’ll be joined by Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane, Cleveland Clinic’s Chief Experience Officer Dr. James Merlino, former Utah governor and EPA administrator Mike Leavitt, Geisinger chair Dr. Glenn Steele Jr., and other organizations to discuss how analytics and technology can, does, and will make a difference in healthcare.

We know that the future of healthcare is becoming more and more technologically driven. Ray Kurzweil will show us what is possible and what is coming that will transform the entire patient experience. Arguably, even the human experience. I, for one, can’t wait to hear what he has to say. Judging by the Wikipedia entry I read, the question and answer period might be the most interesting of all. I hope you’ll join us for this fantastic opportunity to learn from one of the brightest and most innovative minds of our time.

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