Peter Diamandis decided in medical school that he wanted to live as long as sea turtles. "So I set a 700-year lifespan goal," he told the live and virtual attendees at the 10th Annual SAS Health Care & Life Sciences Executive Conference yesterday.
It was a compelling statement, but raised more questions than it answered. Do sea turtles really live 700 years? Does any human other than Diamandis really want to live that long? How does the prospect of immortality -- or something close to it -- affect the natural population cycles of birth and death? And how will even the most sophisticated use of health analytics overcome the limitations of a healthcare system already struggling under the weight of rising costs?
But Diamandis is a visionary thinker, one more concerned with the big existential questions than the practical realities of day-to-day life. It's hardly surprising: When your mind is focused on things as complex as networks and sensors, robotics, artificial intelligence, computational systems, biotechnology, nano technology, and disruptive innovation, you probably have no time to worry about the things the average mind associates with a quest for immortality -- like "where will all those people live?"
Diamandis, 52, has been described as a
"serial social venture entrepreneur." He is CEO of the X Prize Foundation, which leads the world in designing and launching large incentive prizes to drive radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity; an international leader in the commercial space arena, having founded and run many of the leading entrepreneurial companies in this sector, including Zero Gravity Corp., the Rocket Racing League, and Space Adventures; co-founder and chairman of Singularity University in Silicon Valley; and co-author of Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.
Yesterday, he was the keynote speaker during the morning session at the invitation-only SAS conference that was streamed live from SAS world headquarters in Cary, N.C. The event convenes industry leaders to discuss the role and benefits of health analytics in the evolving healthcare world.
His speech was followed by a leadership panel discussion featuring some other heavy hitters: Dr. Michael Dulin, PhD, Chair, and Medical Officer for Analytics and Outcomes Research, Carolinas HealthCare System; Dr. Graham Hughes, Chief Medical Officer, SAS Center for Health Analytics and Insights; Dr. Charles Hugh-Jones, Chief Medical Officer, Sanofi US; and our own All Analytics blogger, Mark Pitts, Director of Data Science, Solutions and Strategy, UnitedHealthcare.
Even more health professionals took the stage in the afternoon, as well as a trio of SAS leaders, CEO Jim Goodnight, Jim Davis, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, and Randy Guard, Vice President of Product Management, who discussed how visual analytics can illuminate data in healthcare and the life sciences.
But let's get back to Diamandis, who explained that some 30 years ago, he watched a TV show that mentioned sea turtles represent some of the oldest living animals on the planet. "It was believed some of them live as long as 700 years. And I said, 'If they can, why can't I?'"
For the record, I'm not sure what TV show Diamandis was watching -- or why a man as obviously smart as he is apparently believed what he heard on TV. I have some doubts about sea turtles living for hundreds of years. As far as I can tell, they are estimated to live about 80 years. But maybe I'm just not smart enough to find Diamandis' sources.
So let's put the comparison to sea creatures aside and consider some of the other things he said -- including the fact that in the next few decades, we will unlock the secrets of human aging and we’ll be able to slow down, stop, and ultimately reverse aging. Human longevity, he added, "represents a huge marketplace in the future."
What else did he have to say?
Healthcare and life sciences should learn from the failure of Eastman Kodak Co. and find every possible way to innovate, embrace possibilities, and recognize that growth is no longer linear but exponential.
You can't stay still anymore if you want your company to thrive, especially in the critical areas of health and science. "You're either disrupting yourself internally or being disrupted externally, often by a start-up," he said.
And the days of data-driven decisions have only just begun. Right now, wireless devices embedded in objects are gathering huge amounts of data that can be modeled by people who are able to “ask the right questions.” But in the future, you will have the data and the data analysis to become the CEO of your own health. He explained:
Today, my car, my airplane, my computer knows more about its health status than I do, which is insane. The future is one in which the fundamental health parameters of my body are constantly being monitored 24/7 as well as the air I breathe, the food I eat, the environment I walk through. There are no more excuses for not knowing about something.
In the future, you know the instant things start to go off kilter and you have the ability to intervene early.
It's not far fetched to envision someone's Google Glasses advising him that he needs to leave work ASAP and head to the nearest emergency room based on data from any one of a number of body sensors, Diamandis added.
We’re at the dawn of an age when consumers will wirelessly monitor a variety of health metrics ranging from their pulse rate to their brain waves, which will be beamed to a user's smartphone (or glasses), putting that data in the palm of their hands.
It’s a world of exciting possibilities, he said, focused on collection of data that will dwarf even the largest amounts we are currently collecting. Think about it: 3D printing of human cells. personal digital assistants that are so smart they can tell people where they need to go next -- without even being asked or prompted, and robots performing all sorts of tasks that people once did.
There's plenty to be enthusiastic about... even if we fall short of his vision of living 700 years.
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