April 2016. It’s been an exhausting winter, cold and cloudy. As if constant below zero temperatures weren’t already enough, the first sun rays hit me with a devastating flu. Almost ten days of decaying under covers, with terrible muscle and joint pains. As we speak, I’m still recovering. I lack energy, and I get emotional over decidedly random matters.
As I’m struggling to put myself back on track, I committed to assisting by two BFFs, who are designing a ground-breaking mobile health app. It’s built to work as a personal health coach, with only one small difference. Behind any advice and notification you’ll be receiving there ain’t gonna be a physician only. But huge amounts of data.
At first, I was skeptical. Like you, I still believe that behind any health advice I get hide years of hard studying, countless night shifts and tons of passion for human life.
“Yes, that is right”, my friends tell me, while adjusting their HR monitors and wrist gadgets. This small devices gather 24/7 inputs on their heart rate, active and resting energy, sleep quality, etc. The information is then sent to a software that computes and assembles it into statistics. “But you should also be considering pure and unaltered data”, they stress.
Trying to copycat their habits I open the Health app and start browsing, without actually searching for something in particular. Until my eyes drop on a dashboard depicting the walking + running distance and the steps I took, starting June 2015. There was noticeable evidence of my activity radically decreasing.
Gazing at the representation of my own physical activity over the last ten months I start questioning myself. Is there any relation between the declining rate of my activity and the low energy I experience? Or is it just a coincidence?
“Well, darling, I think you should consider to start training. What you’re looking at is AI (nr. Artificial Intelligence). And AI never lies”
Struck by the idea of computers taking over my life, I suddenly feel like Neo being asked by good old Morpheus if he’d rather pick the red pill or the blue pill. I start digging into academic and non-academic work about Artificial Intelligence and the way it impacts our very human lives.
The long gone days of Science Fiction
The 60’s. Those were the days when man had no limits in imagining how he could and would conquer the space. Those were the glorious days of machines and computers. Those were the wild days of revolutions of many sorts.
In 1968, Stanley Kubrick directed and produced the acclaimed movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. The screenplay, written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, is based on Clarke’s short story, The Sentinel. In the same year, Clarke published the novel with the same name.
HAL 9000 is one of the main fictional characters, in both the movie and the book. HAL, standing for Heuristically Programmed ALgorithmic Computer is a sentient computer. Simply put it, it is the Artificial General Intelligence in charge with controlling the op system of the Discovery One spacecraft. At the beginning of the story, HAL appears to be an indispensable crew member. It is highly regarded for his fast learning and quick problem solving capacity. At a point, HAL starts to malfunction — in subtle ways — forcing the crew to decide over shutting it down. During the process of disconnecting HAL’s cognitive circuits, astronauts Poole and Bowman whisper, trying to conceal their intentions. He, instead, is capable of reading their lips. Thus a series of dramatic events, during which HAL, superior in intelligence, tries to kill the astronauts.
Yet, HAL’s case is not only a popular illustration of what would grow into a philosophical moral concern — machines gaining self consciousness. It also brings forth the immense possibility of machines being able to learn, process, and build far better scenarios than human brain. And, above anything else, machines never get tired.
As we speak, this moral dilemma moved whatsoever in the background. Nowadays, AI is not looked at anymore as a menace for human race. Instead, it is considered as a long awaited solution for some of our critical problems. Finance and economic prediction, demographics and weather forecast, agriculture — are all touched by AI.
Still, beyond anything else, Artificial Intelligence is regarded as key to improving medical diagnosis and treatment for conditions long considered incurable.
In February 2015, University of Cambridge issued a Press Release. It stated that “Eve, an artificially-intelligent ‘robot scientist’, could make drug discovery faster and much cheaper.” Eve is the second stage of an earlier research project, called Adam. Back in 2009, Adam was the “the first machine to independently discover new scientific knowledge.” Six years later, Eve “exploits its artificial intelligence to learn from early successes in her screens and select compounds that have a high probability of being active against the chosen drug target”, says Professor Steve Oliver from the Cambridge Systems Biology Centre. Eve’s robotic system is capable of screening over 10,000 compounds per day, something a human mind would never be able to do.
Hello. My name is Watson.
“I am a cognitive system who can understand, reason and learn. I work with humans around the world: 80,000 coders in 26 industries and all types of companies. I look forward to working with you, too”, says Watson, IBM’s cognitive system. It promises to make sense of all formulas, tweets, field notes, legal opinions, and photos we are uploading every single minute. By leveraging vast quantities of unstructured and structured data, Watson can improve processes and decision-making schemes. It is thus able to generating better and better results. Starting with deepening customer engagement and finishing with better prediction.
At the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Centre, IBM’s Watson became an indispensable instrument in an automated adviser for cancer treatment. With more than 100,000 patients cared for each year, MD Anderson has gathered exceptional clinical oncology data. Yet, the information generally remains locked in the minds of researchers and physicians. What Watson does is integrate the knowledge, analyse it, extract patterns and generate models for treatment and prevention.
These are only two examples, picked from some hundreds. In the past years, both venture capital investors and corporations have poured significant money into startups that dig into AI. In 2015, the AI investment reached almost $8.5 billion, more than three and a half times the level in 2010.
Currently, systems based on Artificial Intelligence are hugely trending on the tech market. Starting with apps like Lark and ending with the groundbreaking Tesla. The space remaining in between is going to be filled with various web and mobile technologies. Health apps will be, with no shadow of a doubt, some of the most hoped-for.
Using simple but consistent information — heart rate, body temperature, sleep quality and daily active energy — these apps will be able to signal changes in your behaviour. Up next, they will predict the risks you’re exposed to. The overall result will be a salient improvement in your lifestyle, performance and general health.
Revolution in the making.
Cronian Labs is a startup incubator with multiple exits and spin-offs in verticals like mobile health care, sharing economy, augmented reality and other cutting-edge areas. We take ideas we like and research them until we find an angle we believe in. Afterwards, we develop those ideas into products inside our cross-functional team.