The New Reality of Social Data — Andreas Weigend, Social Data Lab — Full
In this StartUp Health NOW! episode, Andreas Weigend of Social Data Lab, discusses the future of big data, the refining of this data to alter market decisions and his advice to startups about using social data in the context of health or healthcare to improve their business.
Key takeaways from this episode of StartUp Health NOW can be found here.
[00:04] Unity Stoakes: Welcome to StartUp Health Now! The weekly web show that celebrates the Healthcare Transformers and changemakers reimagining health. My name is Unity Stoakes and today we are at the Wearable Tech and Digital Health Conference in San Francisco. We have a very special guest, Andreas Weigend. We are going to be talking about the new reality of social data. Stick around. It’s going to be a great show.
[00:29] Intro Music
[01:06] Unity: Welcome, Andreas. It’s wonderful to be with you here, I thought we’d start the conversation by learning about you. Your background, what’s your personal passion?
[01:17] Andreas Weigend: I actually landed here in California on this day, thirty years ago.
[01:21] Unity: Wow.
[01:22] Andreas: I was an honor graduate at Lucerne in Geneva. I came here to check on Berkley and Stanford. And I remember the day because it was the day when the American landed in Libya. Not exactly landed, but they dropped some stuff off there in Libya. And the thing about it, those days, were the days of almost no data. We depended on television to learn about the world. We were just like seeing the projections of what happened the real world onto the wall of the cave as it was, in Plato.
[02:00] Unity: They even called it “mass media” everyone was treated as the masses.
[02:05] Andreas: Yes and as we know, the mass consumer is an invention of mass media. There was no mass consumer prior to that. Fast forward thirty years later, personalized medicine. We are, I did just a couple weeks ago, a DNA test where the results told me how should I work out. What should I eat? Personalized medicine, not only for the individual, but also here connecting people.
02:36] Andreas: Finding other people in the world who might have the same rare disease your child might have. So for me those thirty years really were a communication revolution. We first connected computers we then connected pages, as you know I was a chief science at Amazon. And now we are connecting people and that’s where I think the fun starts.
[03:03] Unity: Very exciting. When did you first grow a love and a passion for data? Was it always with you from childhood or did you pick that up when you moved here to California? Where did that begin?
[03:19] Andreas: My dad was a physicist so it really began when I was very little. When he just had asked us questions wondering what answers data might give. Just like the German philosopher Hegel, he said “you know Andreas, you need to ask the question. Nature will only say yes or no”.
[03:46] Andreas: Now again fast forward 50 years. Answering questions has become simple. Asking the questions is where you know the scarcity is these days.
[04:03] Unity: As chief scientist at Amazon when you were there, what were some of the biggest lessons learned that bring you forward to where you are today? Also that you think would apply to the innovation taking place in health, in healthcare?
[04:22] Andreas: One of the things we learned was that when I started at Amazon we thought that the most important about a person is their history. Based on what you have looked at before or what you have purchased before, trying to figure out what you might be purchasing now. [04:41] Andreas: When I left Amazon we realized that understanding the situation you are in is much more important than your history.
[04:51] Unity: So your context for where you are now.
[04:54] Andreas: Exactly. The context that here we are at the conference, the Wearable Tech and Digital Health and Neurotech Conference is very different from if we were in Hawaii at the beach.
[05:06] Andreas: Trying to figure out the context which starts with the time of the day. Which starts with the search term you’re entering. Are you entering a very specific disease or are you just saying “I am losing my hair.” It ends with the social context.
[05:25] Andreas: Who are your friends? I just read the other day that there is a correlation between cul de sacs and obesity. So when you design a city it actually matters how you layout the cities, the grids, the streets, in how fat people become.
[05:46] Unity: Because people are walking less.
[05:49] Andreas: People are walking less and it even turns out that it was an urban myth thinking that the number of casualties, of deaths, at cul de sacs is smaller than if you’re in thoroughfares
[05:59] Andreas: It turns out and I think it was Virginia where the experiments and very careful analysis, it turns out that even more people get killed in cul de sacs than in major streets. So that’s an example where it made sense but then it simply was wrong once the data came in. That changes how people now think about designing cities.
[06:21] Unity: So you talk about big data but you also talk about social data, and I’ve heard you say that the new reality of social data. What does that mean?
[06:34] Andreas: I was invited to give a talk at the United Nations general assembly a few years ago which we called “data is the new oil”. It turns out everything that anybody now has said before at the time we made it up and we thought it was pretty cool, it was very interesting that this oil metaphor only went that far at the United Nations.
[06:58] Andreas: Oil needs to be refined. Data needs to be refined. Today after we are done here, I’ll scoot over to Berkeley and I’ll have the info session for my class this fall. The class is called “Social Data Revolution” and the revolution has happened.
[07:19] Andreas: You know I sometimes say what the KGB wouldn’t have gotten out of you under torture people now happily share with the world on Facebook. Now where we are is the question “what tools do we build?” and that’s why I love teaching, what tools do the students build?
[07:39] Andreas: What tools do the startups build that help people act upon those social data. Social data being data people create and share whether they know it or not.
[7:56] Unity: So in the context of this new social data what would your advice be to startups today, reinventing the future, their design the next apps, the next companies, the next solutions, but specifically in the context of health or healthcare?
[08:17] Unity: How should they be thinking about social data, how should they be designing it into their business motto, their solution, their technology, their way of being.
[08:29] Andreas: There are five rules for how to think about data when you create a company. And they are all rules that are viewed from the consumer perspective. Because ultimately you only have a company if you actually have people using your app, or using your service.
[08:48] Andreas: Rule number one, give the user access to their data. It’s not always clear, some governments are ahead of others, United States, the U.K is particularly good at giving citizens access. But it’s not across the world that you have access into government data let alone to a data at some random health startup.
[09:16] Andreas: Google is very good at allowing you to export your data, Facebook is good and of course many wrinkles to that because what is your data? If I put some in Facebook and you comment, now I edit my post, your comment well it’s not just your comment but it’s also a comment of your relationship. Your relationship, your comment to what I said. So thinking about making it as easy as possible to give users access to the data is rule number one.
[09:45] Andreas: Rule number two, allow your users to amend their data. So if that device thinks that I did “x”, but I know what I did, it was “y”, allow me to amend the data. Control is more general.
[10:04] Unity: OK.
[10:05] Andreas: Right now I mean there is a relationship between the data and a comment of it.
[10:09] Unity: I see
[10:10] Andreas: If you want a four letter word it would be post.
[10:13] Unity: Yes
[10:14] Andreas: Three, the right to blur. So you don’t want with the finest granularity ever to have everybody know, every company to know what you are up to. Well when you get a pizza delivery, you do want the pizza delivery person to know where exactly you are. It doesn’t help if you just say I’m somewhere in San Francisco. However when you want your East Coast friends to know are you in town, or are you somewhere in Los Angeles, then it’s enough to let them know, or to let the world know you’re in San Francisco.
[10:52] Andreas: So you determine the granularity of your data. Or flipping it, the company needs to empower the user to give you the agency to set the ranges of granularity. So far we have the right to access, then we have the right to amend, right to blur, there are two more.
[11:14] Andreas: There’s a right to play. Play with the data. What I mean by this is play with the knobs of the refinery. The refinery, the startup needs to give people controls where they can do scenarios. For instance, if I did not have that extra spaghetti carbonara today for lunch what impact would it have for how fit I feel today? Or you know in the long term if I cut down my carbonara intake what will that mean when I’m 60 or 70?
[11:52] Andreas: And now the last right. The last right I just presented in this auditorium last week. And I demonstrated it with a bottle, because it is the right to port. Not to share it, but to port. What I mean by this is the startup in the health space needs to give the users the right to port their data.
[12:16] Unity: To another app?
[12:18] Andreas: To whatever they want, think about how a bank gives you the right to port your money. It would not be a bank which is therefore long term if when you want to take the money out they say “oh sorry you can’t port your money.” There is a difference between the first one, the right to access, the right to see your data, and the last one.
[12:41] Andreas: Think about it the right to port is you give them an API ID. That I now with that key, I’m a startup, I give that key and with that key I guarantee as a startup that whoever takes those data, makes a copy of it, that really is the data about you, as opposed to some fake screenshot you made and you don’t know really whether it’s true or not.
[13:07] Unity: So you mentioned money and data in the same sentence, do you see data being a currency? It’s a type of currency.
[13:17] Andreas: Yeah it is a metaphor which many people have used. I mentioned data as a new oil because I wanted to talk about that in its raw form there might not be that much to data. So if Google gives you access to all the URL’s in some digital encoding, some hashed version of that, it really doesn’t do you much good.
[13:45] Unity: You have to translate it, refine it as you mentioned and turn it into something of value.
[13:49] Andreas: Or your health data, if you are wearing a Fitbit and you don’t have the calibration. If you’re wearing an Apple Watch and you don’t know how other people’s data look, it’s very difficult to actually come up with interpretation let alone come up with an action for you. [14:08] Andreas: I think the value is not primarily in the money. The value is whatever value people get out of it. That can be things on very different timescales from getting paid.
[14:23] Andreas: One thing is clear, the argument which we hear again and again that like Facebook should pay us for our data because after all they are using the data to do x,y,z. Well, if Facebook distributed all its profits it would not even suffice for a cup of coffee for each user a quarter. So the value I’m getting out of Facebook, Google, is much greater than the monetary one.
[14:52] Andreas: That’s why the I’m writing a book called, “Data For The People”. That’s why I want people to actually bark up the right tree and not the wrong tree.
[15:03] Andreas: I want people to demand those things which ultimately make a difference. And not just ask for, “hey, you’re getting rich, I want to get rich too”.
[15:13] Unity: Last question. What does the future look like? Where do things go? There’s been extraordinary leaps forward in the last 20 years. You see what Amazon has done with data. Where does this go in the next 10 to 20 years? What’s the future of big data?
[15:32] Andreas: I think the future of big data is small data. It is like, what is, if the future of electricity. We don’t think about electricity anymore. Unless of course you live in Silicon Valley. You don’t think about connectivity. Trying to finish a phone call on 280 is still a challenge.
[15:54] Andreas: I think the future of big data is when we don’t even think about the data we create and share. But, we just have that agency, we act upon it. It is there for us when we need it, it’s refined for us in a way which is useful for us as opposed to right now, or a few years ago, when people defined big data as it does or doesn’t fit onto a single machine. That is so irrelevant.
[16:22] Andreas: It is not the size that matters. It’s what you do with it.
[16:27] Unity: Wonderful. Well thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with StartUp Health Now! and the community. Thank you.
[16:33] Andreas: Thank you
[16:34] Unity: We’ll see you soon. Thank you.