Insights March 2014

Cultivating a Data-Driven, Participatory Culture

When Marty Cooper invented the cell phone in 1973, he could not have dreamed or estimated that there would be over six billion cell phones by 2012 and that this platform would ultimately have a major impact on the future of health and medicine. The invention of the personal computer by Michael Wise in 1975, followed soon thereafter by the innovations of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak the following year, led to over one billion personal computers in use by 2008 and an anticipated two billion in 2014. . .now well over two billion individuals are connected with such expanded bandwidth that video files have become the dominant medium of exchange as measured by file size.

But the biggest leap came in the first decade of the twenty-first century. The six billion bases of the human genome were sequenced, and this led to the discovery of the underpinnings of over one hundred common diseases, including most cancers, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and neurologic conditions. While scientists were busy sorting out the genome’s zip codes, engineers were building on the wireless phone platform to add emails, texting, cameras, multimedia, global positioning, and access to the Internet. Concurrently, the bandwidth of the Internet was quickly expanding and the ability to rapidly search it was increasing exponentially. The unprecedented transformative impact and uptake of mobile digital devices in the same decade, from the introduction of iPods in late 2001 and Blackberries in 2002 to the iPhone and Kindle e-reader in 2007, cumulatively changed the way we listen to music, communicate by text or phone, surf the Web move from place to place, take pictures, make videos, play, read, and think.

In that same decade the number of discrete mobile phone users increased from five hundred million to over three billion, representing almost half of all people and the vast majority of adults on the planet. And they’re now sending over two trillion text messages a year. Our ever-increasing computing power is exemplified by unfathomable data storage capacity. Last year we stored enough data to fill 60,000 libraries of Congresses and we can now purchase a device for $600 that will store the entire collection of the world’s recorded music. (And then the author goes on about digital cameras, digital games, Facebook sending trillions of messages and offering billions of pages. And more. Much more.)

. . . From the Introduction to The Creative Destruction of Medicine by Eric Topol, M.D. published in 2012


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