Wednesday May 27, 2020 0 comments
By Thomas Frey
The Davinci Institute
Most of the biggest advances in human health have happened outside the hospital.
For example, the number one advance in all history has been the filtering of water supplies. Water tech is a complicated topic because only 2% of the planet’s water is drinkable “fresh” water.
And since only about 25% of that is actually accessible, the entire human race has survived on 0.05% of all of the world’s water. Even today, the filtering of water continues to be an ongoing challenge.
Other non-medical advances to health include the invention of toilets, pasteurization, auto safety improvements, anti-smoking campaigns, desalinization, precision agriculture, air conditioning, 3D printing, and data analytics.
Those innovations all took place in parallel with well-known medical advances like anesthesia, blood transfusions, insulin, CPR, organ transplants, pacemakers, bypass surgery, radiology, and vaccines.
It’s because of our distorted view of the medical industry’s role in these advances that we naturally turn to doctors and scientists to find answers for a pandemic like COVID-19. However, finding a vaccine is only one of dozens of possible solutions, most of which will stem from radical different approaches.
Here are ten alternative tech strategies that could be equally or more effective than a vaccine:
- Digital Tattoo for Monitoring Blood
A graphene health sensor applied to the skin, like a digital tattoo, could be used to take real-time measurements and do analytical assessments of a person’s blood.
A couple years ago at the International Electron Devices Meeting in San Francisco a graphene tattoo, similar to this, was demonstrated. It was being billed as the thinnest epidermal electronics ever made and was used to measure electrical signals from the heart, muscles, and brain, as well as skin temperature and hydration.
Graphene electrodes are ideal because they can pick up changes in resistance caused by a person’s own micro-electrical activity under their skin.
Since the healthcare industry is heavily invested in selling tests, a graphene tattoo that can track and analyze a person’s blood, spewing hyper-individualized analytics 24-7, will be a huge game changer both for the healthcare industry and in the war against future pandemics.
- Odorometer for Monitoring Smells
In 2004, two Americans, Dr. Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck, were awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering how people can recognize and remember an estimated 10,000 different smells, ranging from smelly garbage to expensive perfume.
Their breakthrough stemmed from a 1991 discovery of a family of genes devoted to producing different odor-sensing proteins, called receptors, in the nose. Since then science has progressed, and our ability to develop super-sensitive sensors that can “smell” a disease is now within grasp!
Still, receptor patterning has a ways to go before we’re ready to develop a definitive periodic table of elements for the nose
- Skin Coatings
Early on in the filming of Star Trek Next Generation, Brent Spiner, the actor who played the sentient android Lieutenant Commander Data was growing tired of applying his makeup every day. So he asked Gene Roddenberry, “Don’t you think that by this time in history, they would’ve figured out how to make skin look like skin?”
Roddenberry replied, “What makes you think that what you have isn’t better than skin?”
Underlying Spiner’s question was the assumption that humans have already achieved the ultimate form, but have we?
Isn’t it reasonable to think about reengineering human skin, by creating a coating or new levels of resilience that will make us virus-proof? Are we only a layer of skin away from solving this problem?
- UV Light Disinfectant
UV light is nature’s disinfectant, but can it kill coronavirus? If we look at previous viruses, such as SARS and MERS, studies show that UV light effectively inactivated the viruses. So it’s not unreasonable to think that it would have a similar effect on COVID-19.
But on the down side, ultraviolet radiation can also damage human DNA, causing health problems such as skin cancer or cataracts in the eyes. For this reason, it could be used to disinfect an empty restaurant, hotel room, or airplane, but much more work is needed when it comes to disinfecting people.
- Super High Resolution Infrared Scanners
Many years ago I spent time working with infrared sensors, and since then I’ve often wondered if it would be possible to monitor people from a distance by tracking their personal heat signatures.
As this technology moves up the exponential growth curve of precision and data specificity, what inevitably becomes possible is our ability to monitor a person’s health from a distance.
Having a device that could scan the temperature of the entire human body in real-time, both internally and externally, at 1 millimeter resolution would give us enormous amounts of data for spotting virtually any kind of underlying health issues, including viruses.
- Super High Speed Wifi to Every Square Inch of the Planet
For those wanting to leverage the power of data to solve the coronavirus, our sixth generation of Wi-Fi – Wi-Fi 6 – provides more speed, lower latency, and increased device density. The fifth generation of wireless, or 5G, is the latest cellular technology, engineered to increase the speed and capacity of wireless networks.
Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 bring the promise of dramatically better tools for managing a contagious disease. For those working from home, they provide higher data rates to support new applications and increases in network capacity with the ability to connect more devices.
All this means more data, more places, simultaneously. And for researchers hoping to crack the covid-code through pattern recognition, AI analytics engines today are able to accomplish a thousand times the output of those working 30 years ago.
- Self-Disinfecting House
The self-cleaning house has been the dream of housewives and househusbands since the dawn of time. It is finally within reach as smart home technology, combined with the Internet of Things, begins to invade our lives.
Applying this in a far more specific way, it’s easy to imagine a house that can scan itself both internally and externally, monitoring for any potential virus infestations, and deploying robots to disinfect the hotspots seems entirely doable.
We may even start adding disinfection stations at the entrances to buildings, stadiums, and concert venues.
- Search Engines for the Physical World
Online search technology has framed much of our thinking around our ability to find things. In general, if it’s not digital and online, it’s not findable.
In the future, drones and sensors will replace much of the work of today’s web crawlers when it comes to defining our searchable universe. Search technology will soon become far more sophisticated as we will be able to search for attributes like smells, tastes, harmonic vibration, textures, specific gravity, levels of reflectivity, and barometric pressures. More specifically, they’ll be able to search for attributes specifically associated with a particular virus or disease.
The goal of neurohackers is to solve biological problems by “hacking the brain.” In the past they’ve attempted to help people improve reflexes, learn faster, or treat psychological disorders.
While past efforts have focused on the use of chemical supplements to increase brain function, a new generation of neurohackers have started experimenting with complex medical devices that can be implanted and used to treat illnesses. Some of the primary objectives are to coax the body into healing itself by amping up secretion from targeted glands, revitalizing the immune system, and building resistance to disease by augmenting the body’s own defense mechanisms. Neurohacking has particularly strong potential for solving the self-awareness equation inside a pandemic.
- Digital Twin Technology
A digital twin is a virtual representation of a real-life physical product, building, or person. It can take the form of a chair, desk, lamp, house, or even your next-door neighbor. Any item that exists in the physical world can be replicated as a digital twin.
For anyone managing a business, digital twins offer unique insights into how products or processes are operating in real time, even from a remote location.
Yes, the concept of digital twins has been around for a while, with consulting groups like Gartner hailing it as a game-changing technology, but businesses have been slow to embrace it because it’s still rather complicated to implement.
To scan and monitor the health of an individual will require next generation levels of intricacy. As we step from detail and accuracy to micro-detail and micro-accuracy, these super elaborate 3D models will enable us to visualize how our physical bodies are performing and changing every nanosecond. If our metabolism changes, we can instantly tell what went wrong. More important, we can begin to anticipate problems and devise preemptive strategies to circumvent diseases before they occur.
Anti-pandemic tech will be springing to life in far more interesting ways than the few possibilities I’ve mentioned here.
Instead of using mapping apps to tell you about traffic jams and how to get to a favorite restaurant or retail business, we will shift towards using big data, machine learning, and crowdsourcing to facilitate social distancing and crowd-manage large gatherings. The goal will be to minimize crowds, using real-time data from smartphones, wearable devices, and vehicles.
With huge numbers of people working from home, our typical 9-5 workdays are likely to shift toward more flexible work schedules, with a significant portion of the workforce expected to become “night people” for those who prefer to rest during the daytime while others are working.
For most businesses, we will move away from having standard business hours.
Most will switch to 24/7 business operations. This will include companies that traditionally did not operate this way, such as for supermarkets, takeout food businesses, centralized food distribution, and preparation centers.
All of these will require enabling technologies for supply chain and logistics management to serve a population that will always be awake and in need of goods and services any time of the day. Keep in mind, low-traffic night-deliveries can be far more efficient than fighting daytime traffic.
Your future is all about you, and how you’ll fit into this continually evolving idea-scape. I’m sure I’ve missed many of the technologies you may be interested in, but the discussion is only getting started.
If you have additional thoughts, ideas, or comments, please feel free to add to the conversation as every new pixel on the masterpiece of life will help us build a better future.