What To Watch For In 2013

“The future is already here, it’s just not evenly distributed.” – William Gibson

2013 is already shaping up to be a groundbreaking year for health technology. In just the past few weeks we’ve seen stunning technology announced, including LCD contact lenses, iPhone enabled EKG monitors, and brain controlled artificial limbs. I’m pretty sure we’re just at the beginning of a tidal wave of advances that push the human experience forward dramatically.

What follows are a few things I think will reshape our expectations and experiences in healthcare, some for better, some for worse.

The Zettabyte

For a sense of scale, the size of the data we’re talking about is as follows:

1,000 Megabytes = 1 Gigabyte. 1,000 Gigabytes = 1 Terabyte. 1,000 Terabytes = 1 Petabyte. 1,000 Petabytes = 1 Exabyte. 1,000 Exabytes = 1 Zettabyte. By 2015, global IP traffic is expected to pass 1.3 Zettabytes per year, with 39-45% of all that traffic happening wirelessly. 51% of that traffic will be video based, with HD video compromising 79% of that. For all of the talk about big data and how healthcare marketers can use it, the fact remains the industry is woefully under-resourced to create or leverage the kind of sophisticated algorithms needed to analyze and predict trends in order to stay relevant with customers. And, given the scale of the data involved, the problem is only going to get worse.

Dr Watson

IBM, in partnership with the Cleveland Clinic is looking to take it’s Watson supercomputer and train it to aid in making medical decisions. The collaboration, announced in October, includes a bit of controlled crowdsourcing, with the Cleveland clinicians and medical school students answering Watson’s questions and correcting its mistakes in order to better train it to help make diagnostic and medical recommendations. Part of Watson’s training will be to feed it test questions from the United States Medical Licensing Exam, which every human student must pass to become a practicing physician. Says Dr. Ferrucci, the I.B.M. scientist who serves as the principal investigator for the Watson project, Watson should be able to collect and assess all that patient data, and then construct “inference paths” toward a probable diagnosis – digesting information, missing nothing and winnowing choices for a human doctor.

The Pluerry, invented by Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics in Modesto California, is one of the country’s few hybridized fruits, and it won’t be the last. As you may have guessed, the Pluerry is a cross between a plum and a cherry, and will join the Pluot and the Aprium (combinations of plum and apricot) as the first line of mass-marketed frankenfruits to hit the market in 2013.  While these hybrids have been around for some time, their mass appeal is being driven largely by taste (the fruit is much sweeter) and desire by higher end shopper for more exotic produce.

The Proteus Effect

Roughly explained, the Proteus Effect is the name for the phenomenon where humans will change or adapt their behaviors based on the appearance of their online avatar. In one study, participants who had more attractive avatars exhibited increased self-disclosure and were more willing to approach opposite-gendered strangers after less than 1 minute of exposure to their altered avatar. In other words, the attractiveness of their avatars impacted how intimate participants were willing to be with a stranger. (Link)

Microsoft filed for a patent for using avatar-awareness technology to change behavior in June 2008. “An avatar generator for a virtual environment reflects a physiological characteristic of the user, injecting a degree of reality into the capabilities or appearance. Thereby, many of the incentives of the real world are replicated in a virtual environment,” the patent application says.

“Physiological data that reflect a degree of health of the real person can be linked to rewards of capabilities of a gaming avatar, an amount of time budgeted to play, or a visible indication,” it continues. Loosely put, if you avatar looks fat, you’ll exercise more.

“For example, an undesirable body weight could be reflected in an overweight or underweight appearance for the avatar. An unhealthy condition could be reflected in an unhealthy pallor, posture,” the application says. If the user was horribly out of shape, he or she might even be banned from a game until that person shaped up.”

Expect more and more health and wellness games to leverage real-life body scans as part of avatar creation, which should have a dramatic impact on overall wellness of fitness game players.

Gen Z

Born in the year 2000 or later Generation Z, or the Net Generation, will grow up in a world replete with mobile devices and connected networks and will drive the technological revolution for the back half of the century. Their influence will also be the backbone for many cultural shifts in our society, as their cultural influences are vastly different than any other generation in recent history. Gen Z was born into a post 9-11 world, is the most home-schooled generation since the days of the one room school-house, are inherently media savvy. They prefer texting to real conversations, crave immediate feedback, and are growing up in a world without much concern for social, grammatical or traditional standards that have been the defining hallmarks of previous generations.

For their entire lives, they’ve heard about the dangers of global warming, been subjected to terror alerts of varying colors and watched their parents weather the recent economic crisis. As a result, they’re growing up fast and developing sensitivities beyond their years. For example, in a study conducted by Harris Interactive, 30 percent of students stated that the financial stability of their families is a concern. They see themselves as the solution to these problems and, as a result, are more likely to pursue careers they think will help society.

Their overall impact on how our society communicates, consumes, and behaves collectively is yet unknown, but even the most conservative guesses say our civilization will look dramatically different because of their influence.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the marketing and PR industries are expected to grow by almost 20% next year, which means a flood of new jobs and college grads entering the industry. Given the nature of the business and the attention economy it serves, workers in the communications disciplines will find it harder and harder to get noticed or make a name for themselves. In recent weeks, I’ve read numerous trend reports like this one, and the prevailing commonality among them is the increasing use of made-up terms to describe ideas, namely Jargon. Consider these: Artisinal Handsets. Thinkfluence. Hyper-local. Microinnovation. Friend-sourced.  I kid you not, and I can go on and on. Sadly, most of these terms are just made-up silliness to describe foundational programs like personalized products, word of mouth marketing and social recommendations. But we live in a shiny object world. I predict we’ll see at least one copyright lawsuit by someone who wishes to claim ownership over one of these terms. After all, what better calling card than to be referred to as “the man who defined Herd-sourcing..” And yes, this is the world we live in.

For bioacustic technology, a transducer attached to a mobile device sends small vibrations into the body. These travel via bone conduction to a receiving object the user is touching and are then translated into information. The system works both as transmitter and receiver, just as a speaker can also be used as a microphone. AT&T has created a working proof of concept using a door handle, where a phone transmits a unique signal through the body that is picked up by the ‘smart’ handle, which can then identify who is at the door and act accordingly. The potential applications for this technology are enormous. As a result of each person’s bone structure being different, identical wavelengths sent through two bodies can emerge differently, auto-encrypting it to match the user. Beyond secure keyless entry, with more development this system could transfer contact information via handshake or prevent texting while driving by picking up vibrations from the car. Other, more fun ideas come to mind, such as developing clothing that responds to data the user transmits or creating a device-body-display circuit that can host interactions and content customized to the user.



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