Thoughts on Health and Artificial Intelligence

If it hadn’t been for a trip to the optician, I’d be, as my cockney gran and the Good Funeral Guide used to say, ‘pushing up daisies’. My sight had started to go, and it turned out that a tumour was eating into my optic nerves…

My life-saving optician pointed out:

‘Your eyes aren’t just the mirrors to your soul, they tell you how healthy the rest of your body is and, when you get ill, they do too.’

The only thing worse than going blind (I lost 70% of my vision before I had corrective surgery, and that was bad enough!) is going blind and knowing that it could have been avoided:

Eighty percent of blindness worldwide is preventable if detected and treated early (WHO).

Most people see blindness as one of life’s unavoidable poker hands, not realizing that regular screening can safeguard two of our most precious tools and that, if you’ve got a condition that affects your hormones, like diabetes (world’s top cause of blindness) you need to be extra vigilant..

The good news is that, with the help of a little Artificial Intelligence, we can now see previously undetectable/easy to miss pathologies in the eyes of say, diabetes sufferers or undiagnosed glaucoma patients. IBM Watson AI, famous for chess and Jeopardy triumphs, has begun to use its loaf to solve some of the most complex diabetes and glaucoma screening conundrums.

I was lucky enough to participate on winning team at the latest IBM & Ogilvy Hackathon. Our project involved the diagnosis of pre-diabetes. I hadn’t heard of pre-diabetes, let alone realised that one in three of us are at risk.

Doughnuts

I hadn’t realised that, if that one in three of us carry on with an unhealthy lifestyle, stress levels and being that wee bit overweight, we’re more likely to get diabetes, but that we can actually avoid it, quite easily, by making a few habit and mind-set changes..

It now occurs to me that whatever we can do to avoid diabetes, is also helping us protect our vision. All the more incentive for us all to look away from that Krispy crème for 2 mins and take the Know Your Risk survey

 

Read more

IBM & Ogilvy Hackathon site and Twitter

IBM Watson and spotting diabetes and glaucoma

WHO blindness data

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Taking my mind off to La Gomera

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After a week spent in the Canaries, at La Finca eco-retreat on the verdent island of La Gomera, I find I’m relaxed, happy and well nourished. The only images I have been exposed to have been 100% natural, organic, no added flavours or colourings.

My eyes have been feeding on a natural diet of flora, fauna, sea, sky and the odd statue, here and there.  I have drawn some pictures – a Whale, a tree, two Buddhas, some leaves, a frog playing a violin, some pond fish, a dolphin.

I have not been force-fed 200 marketing messages every hour, not mentally farting away my afternoons, as glossy mags,news, tweets, posts, ferment in my bloated brain.

On La Gomera I was free of this uninvited eye food, free to walk lighly without the constant call to eat or save or recycle or compost what I’d seen. I wonder if app developers have already come up with a mind-watchers programme, like weight watchers, complete with its own fit-bit that tracks how many visual calories you’ve consumed, giving tips for cutting down and making what’s seen and read less fattening and flatulence inducing…

a-horse-wearing-blinkers

Back in London, this app, in analogue, would simply be a pair of human blinkers that would filter  ads on the escalator and other periphery visual onslaughts we unknowingly consume while on the go.

These human blinkers would probably have a company behind them: ‘BlinkedIn’. People could sign on to connect with like-minded BlinkedIners or BlinkInIdiots and share lots of images of what blank things you haven’t blinked@ that day 😉  #BlinkBlank

No doubt you’re already aware of the mushrooming ecosystem of ‘switch it off’ apps and new ‘old skool’ devices designed to cut down on sensory overload. But this is not just a tech problem. It cannot be switched off through an app or a device.

Its branches reach offline. It’s billboards, it’s newspapers, it’s endless supplements within supplements in the Sunday and Saturday news. It’s magazines, its more box sets and more telly and more sport everywhere, in the corners and centres and sides of our eyes, all the time.

In one 45-minute journey, the average London commuter is exposed to more than 130 adverts, featuring more than 80 different products. Only half of that information makes any impact, while unprompted we can remember none of the blur of adverts. In an entire day, we’re likely to see 3,500 marketing messages (Source: Guardian)

I’m not saying that we don’t need and like and even love some and/ all of these things, even some ads. I’m just repeating the ancient Greek maxim that still seems to stand the test of time ‘meden agan’ (μηδὲν ἄγαν) – ‘Anything in excess is too much’. We must be more aware. We must pay more attention to things, one at a time. Our brains, under the strain of sensory overload, start to shut down to conserve battery power, in self-defence, as any sensible computer would. This shutting down amounts to a growing inertia, disconnection from ourselves and what really makes us tick, both physically and mentally.

After just a week of so called ‘disconnection’ i.e. no wifi, no city, no TV, No news, pure visual detox, I felt completely rebooted and ready to start smaller, healthy doses of meaningful visual connection.  Now I’ve been back ‘in the world’ a week, I’m visually farting already, but my gut is stronger and digestion is, I think, more efficient. My visual blood-sugar is more stable, better able to cope with any force feeding/self-indulgent binging I might do to sweeten up tonight’s commute.

I’d thoroughly recommend a week on La Gomera, one of the quieter, most verdant of the Canaries. And while I’m on the subject of Islands and birds I’d recommend devoting some precious attention to ‘The Island‘ by Aldous Huxley, if you need a healthy complement to watching the flora, fauna sea and sky….

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Some final links, if you fancy risking more information overload…

Where to stay  – La Finca Argayall’s ‘ alternative, experimental and experiential community

Article –  how much we involuntarily see..

Article –  how our visual bellies are getting bigger and bigger

Article – 5 apps that switch you off

Appetite for Travel

Yesterday’s  Travel Lab at Ogilvy was fantastic fuel for thought on the latest developments in user behaviour and what they mean for travel. Here’s what I got from it

The experience economy

We care less about stuff, we care more about experiences. We care less about what we have and don’t have but more about what we can do and what others are doing.

We are moving to a new form of materialism, a new form of consumerism. Status and vanity are now expressed and fed via shared experiences, rather than possessions. The recent surge in support for organic, fair-trade, free-range produce, for instance, is now mirrored by increasing demand for organic, fair-trade, free-range, and increasingly ‘freegan’ experiences.

 

Travel is the ultimate product

This experience economy, coupled with the sharing economy is presenting huge opportunities for the travel and entertainment industries, the first to see experience as product. Countries, and the travel brands that feed them, now serve as ‘manufacturers’ of the experience, subject to the same scrutiny and brand-opportunity as manufacturers – having to make the purchase-case, and do it in a way that suits the latest ‘experience’ consumption behaviours and expectations.

 

Experiences must be wearable

Now, when we ‘go on holiday’, we expect and want more than just a holiday, we see it as something that we can package up and use as a creative accessory, to express ourselves to our friends, family and the wider world.

Never, when we ‘go on holiday’ have we changed into another person. Since who we are is increasingly cloaked, if not yet fused, with technology, we like to and increasingly need to, take our technology with us, wherever we go (unless it’s a tech-detox retreat, which we’ll no doubt  inform our friends about and write Tripadvisor reviews on).

We need to be able to continue plugging in to the new experience in the same way we plug in to our daily-life (The Internet of Being)

 

Opportunities for the travel sector

Today’s speakers gave the view of the Jupiter-sized opportunity that the better start-ups spotted a while back. The most successful digital developments in travel seem to share the characteristic of successful ‘sustainable’ retail and food brands, feeding the experience appetite  with healthy, ethical options that are designed for public as well as private consumption.

If people feel that the experience they have is not only benefiting them, but also contributing to the greater good, they are more likely to buy and tell people they have bought  and, what’s more, making the effort to get others to buy that experience will make them feel good and that they have ‘done their bit’

‘The internet is creating a massive sampling campaign for other places’ (Rory) – helping us to find the best experience, that ‘people like us’ have liked.

The implications for this is the idea of countries as brands – There’s more involved in the decision now, not just the hotels and flight connections.  Like a potential partner on an online dating site or a pot of palm oil, we want to know if it’s right/healthy for the kids to meet/eat it… beyond AirBnB and Tripadvisor, lots of apps are capitalising on this ethical and cultural evaluation aspect (GreenHotel, YahooLabs, BackstreetAcademy, Fortaleza Tour, Lopeca, SideKix, Nectar & Pulse – instead of googling these individually, take a look at Springwise – a great forum, archive and search tool for all these types of thing and more)

 

My top five links from the day

  1. Visit Britain – choose Chinese name for a range of British landmarks…
  2. fly – travel memoir makes an elegant travel journal that draws on data from multiple apps to create an all-singling –all dancing record of the trip that can be circulated on/offline…
  3. Icelandair stoposver buddy service – for free, Iceland-air will team you up with a real Icelandic person who will give you a guided tour out of the icy goodness of their hearts…
  4. Fieldtrip to Mars – recognised with a Cannes gold, the biggest bravest attempt at virtual reality ever, Lockheed Martin took a school bus full of real school kids to Mars (not really, just kidding ;)) Hail the new competition for traditional travel – I think, as AirBnB was to hotels, so virtual travel and gaming will be to, well, real places..
  5. Ditch postcodes – use the 3 word addressing system –  everywhere you have ever been and want to go now has 3 words associated with it that you can find and share via phone. Whether you’ve lost your tent at Glastonbury, you’re phone-equipped tot strays in Disneyland, you’ve broken your foot in the Gobi, there’s now an app for that..