The discussion is well-timed. Over the past decade we have seen the convergence of massive data sets, near-unlimited computing power, and advanced data science. The most pioneering biotechnology companies have moved beyond the hype. They now use AI and ML to turbo-charge efficiency, power up knowledge, and cut time from data to evidence.
AI does more than making a biotechnician’s job easier. The ability to analyze a torrent of data and relate it to tricky questions and challenges allows us to reach new depths and heights. AI and ML broaden our horizons as well. We might all need to become data scientists at some point to leverage the wealth of opportunities.
AI and ML serves as a “force multiplier” as Krishnan Nandabalan described it. After hitting a bottleneck back in 2015, InveniAI started using AI and ML to automate steps which led them to improved efficiency and enhanced analytical capabilities. Similarly, at Centrexion, AI and ML helped Kerrie Brady and the team to “bite big and chew hard” so even as a team of 6, they were able to manage five development projects.
When AI and ML apply to every part of the value chain, these technologies can promote efficiency, effectiveness, and increase probability of success. At Novartis, we are embedding AI and ML across the drug development value chain. We have many initiatives to maximize the value of these technologies to make sure they are not just widespread but also have depth.
Power Up Knowledge
Some professionals think that AI doesn’t just stand for Artificial Intelligence — it is an Accelerator of Innovation. In describing this technology, Moira Gunn said, “There’s no doubt about it; once you’re able to grasp it and put it to work, it accelerates innovation as we know it. That’s brand new, and that’s one of the reasons that our whole industry could change. Not from a test tube, but from data and from information.”
Some also define AI as Augmented Intelligence. AI doesn’t exist and operate in a vacuum; humans are critical to assess the reliability of the input and output, and synthesize collected data further. Aashish Kachru addressed this symbiotic relationship and advised us to “Embrace the job displacement that’s going to come as a result of AI, and move yourself towards higher skill values where you’ll be needed.”
The current global pandemic creates one such circumstance in which higher skill values are necessary. COVID-19 has led to a great deal of renewed connectivity and openness across the pharma industry. Technology such as Natural Language Processing has enabled this effort, scanning millions of publications and tapping into global knowledge to answer an individual team’s questions. An individualistic line of thinking is far too narrow when it comes to AI and ML. The panel highlighted the opportunity to refine the life sciences ecosystem, allowing companies to leverage their strengths and pool decentralized knowledge, as it can help individuals and healthcare professionals make the best informed decisions.
Cut Time from Data to Evidence
Novartis’ data42 program applies advanced analytics to derive medical insights from 2 million patient-years of data. We have primarily focused on bringing that data together and making it AI and ML-ready. These insights contribute to our increasing understanding of diseases and medicine, thereby enhancing R&D decision-making and ultimately #reimagining drug discovery and development by cutting the time from data to evidence.
But it all started with data. This is the condition for knowledge-workers really to be knowledge-workers, as opposed to data janitors and information engineers, creating room for operational, analytical, and experiential value growth, thereby expanding our capabilities.
According to multiple analyses, it can take over a decade to bring a new drug to patients, and only one out of ten drugs is successful. Early AI and ML opportunities have shown the potential to cut years off this timeline and maximize the probability of success. For which, as several panelists pointed out, making AI and ML part of the value chain end-to-end is the key.
Completely in line with Brian Martin stating that “we have moved from myth to value”. As he elaborated, AI and ML “deliver the momentum to change”. The life sciences has become a digital industry powered by AI and ML. For us at Novartis, it is not “if” or “when” AI and ML will help us in our commitment to reimagining medicine. Now, the focus is on scaling it across the entire organization to fuel our unbossed, inspired and curious culture.
I’d like to extend a word of thanks to my esteemed co-panelists, all of whom shared great insights that did wonders to demystify AI an ML and I look forward to continuing and broadening these conversations.
Many journalists and bloggers use “unprecedented” to describe our current situation. No word is more appropriate. Communities around the world are engaging in an epic struggle to mitigate the spread and impacts of COVID-19. We are indebted beyond reconciliation to healthcare professionals and caregivers working on the front-lines of the pandemic. There is much to learn from the COVID-19 outbreak. In particular, two lessons cannot escape attention: 1) Embracing data science and digital technology is no longer optional for our healthcare systems, and 2) Open collaboration and innovation are essential to #reimaginingmedicine.
Collaboration Between Life Science Companies
It is clear that COVID-19 is not a sequestered issue—it is a global pandemic that has traveled far and wide to impact some of our world’s most vulnerable populations. For this reason, the collaborative efforts of life science companies as they work to minimize and mitigate the overall impact of the novel coronavirus was much needed and unheard-of. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to pool resources across 15 life science companies is especially notable. This group will share their libraries of resources, which include unique molecular compounds that could potentially turn the tides in the public health sector’s favor. Those molecular libraries have found a home in the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a platform developed by the Gates Foundation. Researchers use this tech to quickly identify which compounds and options are most likely to make a positive impact. Combined with accelerated vaccine and therapeutic trials and the combination of data from a multitude of countries and sources, the initiative has the potential to create a step-change on both national and international levels.
Collaboration Between Healthcare Providers and Tech Companies
Stay-at-home and quarantine orders are limiting people’s access to healthcare around the world. For some people,healthcare providers are able to visit them at their home, but this is not an option for most. Where home delivery is not possible, even access to medication is disrupted. Technologies such as home assistants and telemedicine are enabling healthcare providers to reach their most vulnerable patients without making direct, person-to-person contact. Hospitals are using AI combined with sensors for a variety of tasks, from tracking patient temperatures to detecting acute respiratory conditions. These technologies allow patient monitoring without putting healthcare providers at more risk for infection. Providers have utilized drones to reach those who cannot leave their homes whether due to compromised immune systems or mild symptoms and to drop off medical supplies from rural locales in Ghana to cities across the United States. Their service include prescription drugs, medical implements such as swabs and masks, and even COVID-19 testing kits. Organizations, including the World Health Organization, IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, and other tech companies, government agencies, and international health organizations are partnering in building the blockchain-based open data hub called MiPasa. It is poised to enable rapid and precise detection of COVID-19 carriers and infection hotspots around the world.
Health Authorities’ Overall Collaborative Position
As we begin to re-open businesses and schools, we should remember the value of collaboration within the healthcare ecosystem. Resource pooling, information accessibility, and new technologies played an important role in combating COVID-19. As usual, hindsight is “20/20” – it is hard to fathom what prevented us from unleashing this level of collaboration earlier. When we needed to stay physically apart, we saw the urgency to come together to combine our knowledge, skillsets and experience as illustrated above, but also in so many other examples.
These unprecedented times unearthed the need to move beyond the usual calls for open innovation: a need for connectedness, maybe deriving from Joy’s law, “no matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else”. The state of urgency side-showed the prime focus on internal excellence, intellectual property protection and competitive vying and brought together people in totally new ways. I can not help asking, “what if” this connected openness, this #unbossed can-do mindset, were to become the real “new normal”?
With a few short clicks, we send electricity traveling through silicone and fiber optics, instantly transferring worlds of info across a journey through a slew of vivid, scenic digital destinations. Every internet user chooses the data with which they interact; each of our unique online preferences treats select pieces of the web to a personalized cruise through the datasphere.
It only makes sense, therefore, that the data we send sailing through cyberspace should treat the travelers among us to a streamlined, personalized trip planning experience. I’m happy to report that the internet is now achieving just that. Thanks to the soaring popularity of online travel services, as well as the birth of travel apps designed to ease the burdens of cost and planning, vacationers and nomads alike now hold in their smart devices a means to manufacture the ultimate getaway.
Digital advances have made it not just possible, but easy for internet-savvy travelers to build unique itineraries which account for tastes in anything from cuisine to nightlife. Want to sip red and backstroke through watery wonderlands in the Mediterranean’s hidden corners for two months? Or maybe you prefer two weeks moving to the mesmerizing, static pulse of Barcelona’s nighttime scene? Even tourists who simply want to witness Rome’s famed sights for a few days can use internet travel tools to locate the perfect custom or pre-designed trips, conserving precious time and energy for what really matters: the trip itself.
Many might picture their dream trip playing out like some kind of wild adventure, where new people and novel situations clash and blend into something truly unforgettable. Online hospitality marketplace Airbnb (which I’ve mentioned briefly before in a previous post) adds a dimension of reality to this ideal; rooted in the philosophy of sharing, Airbnb offers users the opportunity to reserve privately-owned, affordable lodgings in offbeat locations, and pay reasonable fees to participate in unique, fresh activities and locally hosted events.
Ironically enough, by meshing travel with a more traditional form of social intimacy Airbnb actually manages to innovate. According to James Mclure, Airbnb’s country manager for Ireland and the UK, “in Airbnb’s case, technology has also brought tradition into the mainstream. The concept of staying in people’s homes when travelling is not a new one and dates back many centuries, but what technology has been able do is accelerate this to a fast-moving and easily-accessible global phenomenon.”
By cutting commercialization from trip plans and instead emphasizing unique, hyper-customizable experience, technologies such as Airbnb are molding a new industry standard for travel management, one which other popular travel sites have been all too keen to make their own. Expedia, for example, recently acquired (and has been aggressively advertising) vacation rental site HomeAway.
No matter which they prefer, planning service can only take travelers so far. Undertaking an extensive trip, especially in an unfamiliar country, can throw roadblocks in the paths of even veteran voyagers. Fortunately for modern travelers, a number of ridiculously useful (and usually free) travel apps have cropped up in Apple and Android marketplaces. Citymapper is a must for navigating public transport in dense cities where movement can get messy. Livetrekker logs a digital journal of your travel trajectory, which can be tagged with pictures, video, and more, so you can look back with nostalgia (and a little pride) at how far you’ve come. XE Currency converts funds, Rebtel makes calls without wifi, and yes, there’s even an app that prevents sunburn.
All of these tech tools harmonize to create a singularly memorable travel experience. Sophisticated travel planning options which consider our wants as well as our wallets, and apps which smooth travel wrinkles and keep your trip on track have rendered travel nearly effortless. In fact, I’d imagine the only truly impossible thing to do when traveling these days would be coming home without worthwhile memories.
To read Part I in the “New Frontiers” series by Bruno Villetelle, titled “What Has Technology Done to Better Travel?” click here.
Part II: Interstellar Travel & Digital Health
As someone whose love of digital technology is surpassed by few things, it’s not often that I find myself able to connect that love with something that excites me to as high a degree. I have, however, found such a connection between myself, travel, and digital technology.
And the future of those things excites me a great, great deal.
Some people aren’t excited by travel. Some people don’t have that inherent “wanderlust” that those like myself are born with and develops over time. But regardless of your experiences of stances or passion regarding travel what the future has in store for travel–the new frontiers that the digitization of the world affords us–in the hands of the likes of Elon Musk is a difficult concept to ignore. The future is very, very much on the horizon, and the more we continue to embrace the digital revolution, the further we can push the limits of travel.
People like Elon Musk aren’t just changing the luxuries we are afforded when we travel, he’s on a mission to change every facet of exploration from top to bottom. And from one travel lover to another–I couldn’t be happier.
Musk’s vision of a Hyperloop-laden future has already been touched on in this post, and though it will certainly revolutionize the way we as human beings travel the world, much of the real interest lies in how we’ll travel other worlds.
The future of interstellar travel is quickly becoming the present of interstellar travel. People like Musk have passed through the phase of dreaming about traveling to the moon and begun bringing that dream to reality. His organization SpaceX is hard at work on expanding the current offerings for travel–no more will we have to choose between destinations limited solely to those on the Earth. If SpaceX is successful, interstellar could become a norm–an expensive norm perhaps–but one that is, in our generation, a possibility.
Recently, Musk announced he plans to send two people to the moon by 2018–giving him under two years to put the pieces together and solve the problems that any interstellar traveler is wont to run into.
But rocket science, engineering and design aren’t the only things that complicate the space-faring process. Healthcare–or the lack of it–makes interstellar travel incredibly difficult.
This is where we can introduce digital technologies.
Health complications in space go beyond headaches, bumps and bruises. The radiation an astronaut experiences during spaceflight can wreak havoc on the central nervous system. Studies of astronauts show that they die of cardiovascular disorders at 4 or 5 times the rate of those who haven’t been to deep space.
And the potential health issues certainly don’t end there. Both emergency conditions–such as heart attack or stroke–and nonemergency conditions–space adaptation syndrome being the most common–are nearly inevitable among those enduring space exploration.
As you probably can imagine, there is not an abundance of readily-available and well-stocked healthcare facilities in the vast reaches of space. The galaxy, in its unimaginably infinite size, is not outfitted with hospitals or minute-clinics every few thousand light years. But perhaps digital health can bridge the gap that a lack of hospital beds can leave. So what will the likes of Musk and his newly christened astronauts need out of digital health?
What must happen first is a shift in focus. If an astronaut aboard a shuttle or inhabiting another celestial body were to break his or her arm or suffer a heart attack, treatments could, in theory, be administered. But at the forefront of most every health-conscious individual should not be how we can treat illnesses like these, but how we can prevent them.
Shifting our focus to prevention of illness and other medical maladies means meticulously assessing and monitoring of the crew. This is precisely where digital health technologies can come into play so fruitfully. Wearable technology beyond anything you’d see on a jogger here on Earth can effortlessly monitor and report back on vital signs and any irregularities that can be expected when one is making the transition from Earth to space. Likewise, rigorous assessment via digital health readouts can be (and should be, and of course already are) done prior to jettisoning people into space to ensure that they’re as healthy as can be. These can be executed with the help of existing and burgeoning digital tech, like virtual reality.
While prevention should be at the forefront, treatment remains a necessary component. As any parent could tell you, no matter the precautions taken, people will inevitably get sick or injured. If the care provided to them can be executed digitally, the treatment processes will become exponentially simpler.
The quickest means of digitizing healthcare on other planets will involve bringing the point of care along for the ride. Incredible technology like that in IBM’s Watson has achieved everything from besting past champs on Jeopardy to diagnosing illnesses that had perplexed human doctors. This is the technology of the future–both of healthcare and beyond. Bringing it along to space could streamline the healthcare process for astronauts and perhaps, in our lifetime, moon residents.
We have come too far as a civilization, made too many advancements and knocked down far, far too many roadblocks to stop here. But the potential for in-space health complications makes space travel dangerous–even more so than people already recognize. By advancing our digital technologies even further and pairing them with our affinity for space exploration, we could be putting digital and galactic healthcare into, well, a world of their own.
Part I: What Has Technology Done to Better Travel?
Remember the days when booking a flight across the country required a trip to the travel agent’s office, some back and forth discussion, and ultimately an arm and a leg in ticket costs?
Thanks to digital technology, those days are long gone. The past 50 or 60 years have done wonders for the travel industry; as new technology has begun to saturate the market to the point of total ubiquitousness, our lives–and our travel experiences–have improved tenfold.
Changing How We Travel
While the days of inflight lobster meals, reclining seats and smoking sections may be largely in the past, other amenities like personal TV screens, wifi connectivity and flight tracking have replaced them tenfold.
New technology has not only changed the ways we travel, it’s completely revolutionized the entire in-flight experience from top to bottom. While the amount of legroom on flights has been reduced to a less-than-stellar 30 or so inches, some may not even notice their legs falling asleep thanks to the in flight entertainment options on most commercial airlines.
Even outside of what’s offered on a flight, the digitization of entertainment means you have an entire library of your favorite books, magazines and periodicals at your fingertips in addition to the nearly unlimited supply of music.
New Methods & Modes
For decades people have imagined what the future of travel would look like. Flying cars, of course, were dreamt of for years and years and years before largely being determined to be out of the realm of possibility. Other dreams of future travel like people shooting across the country in air tubes was, surprisingly, not the strangest of the “what might the future of travel look like” illustrations of pre 21st century predictions.
The man who has become a beacon of technological advancement, Elon Musk, has announced that his recent endeavor at SpaceX, Hyperloop is underway. As it turns out, perhaps low pressure, high speed tube travel is the future of getting from San Fransisco to Los Angeles in a half an hour. While technological advancements like the Hyperloop has yet to come to complete fruition, organization insiders anticipate that people will be firing around the country in pressurized, wheel-less Hyperloop trains by the year 2020.
The Who, The When, And The How Much
The digitization of travel and introduction of new technology hasn’t just changed the accommodations we’re given when we travel or even the modes through which we traverse the country, but also who it is that’s doing the traveling.
Technology has effectively streamlined the entire travel process, particularly for the young people of today who are so intimately connected to the technology around them. No longer do travelers have to rely on a linear stepped communication process–traveler to travel agent, travel agent to airline, airline to travel agent, travel agent back to traveler (and that’s just for airline booking)–the entire process from purchasing your tickets to printing them out to booking your hotel has gone digital.
Some of these advancements open up numerous options to the average traveler that haven’t formerly been possible. The creation and subsequent torrid takeoff of AirBnB has given younger people the opportunity to not only explore more of the world, but to do so earlier, cheaper, and more efficiently.
The most exciting aspect of futuristic travel technology doesn’t lie in what travel can offer us or how it’ll get us there but instead where it’ll be getting us. Elon Musk and his aforementioned aerospace manufacturer SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of travel before our very eyes.
While quick vacations to Mars or the Moon might not be on the immediate horizon for Musk and the rest of SpaceX, it’s entirely possible that in a matter of years you and your loved ones might be able to spend a week or two vacationing in the shadow of the Apollo 11 landing site.