Future Shock: part one – health

I have been gently nagged to write up a blog about last week’s NESTA  event, Future Shock.

"Future Shock, next exit"The event promised to look at the important issues for the next election, but which aren’t on the agenda as yet. There were six streams, billed as workshops, and it was possible to attend two – I chose Health: Digital Technology and Patient Power as it’s directly related to a project I’m working on, and A New Movement in Education because it’s a passion. I mention this explicitly because my experience of the event may well have been very different from others who attended.

Part One: Health: Digital Technology and Patient Power

This session opened with a talk about how little technology is used in healthcare, by Dr Kevin Fong, founder and Associate Director of the Centre for Altitude, Space and Extreme Environment Medicine, a consultant anaesthetist at University College, London –  very clearly a man with an enormous brain, and degrees in medicine, astrophysics and engineering to prove it. And I had to accept this as the speaker comes from within the system. But this is at odds with my own experience – last year a close friend, who is living with ‘terminal’ cancer, had a burst appendix. The amount of monitoring technology that was attached to her, the amount of information about what was happening, that the one to one (yes, one to one) nursing staff received whilst she was  in critical care was phenomenal.

I have a strong belief that the NHS should be free at the point of delivery, that it should not be privatised, that there should be stronger links between  clinical/medical and social care, and that we cannot afford to save everyone. Despite the clampdowns in the wake of Shipman, we should sometimes accept that dying in a dignified and pain free manner should be an acceptable outcome when medicine reaches its bounds, or when the amount of money being spent to keep one person alive for two days longer could help cure thirty. But I’m equally conscious that it’s easy for me to say – it’s not me with just a day to live. I just can’t help feeling that our expectations are too high, and unless we adjust them, we may lose what we have. Read more »

Ada Lovelace Day: Hedy Lamar

Hedy Lamar 1942

Hedy Lamar 1942

You could be forgiven for believing that as a woman you have to choose one of two paths: pretty little fool (keep your head down, pretty up and bag yourself a husband) or throw away the make up and artifice and get on your inner geek.

Programs like the Big Bang Theory are great fun, and I’m a massive fan, but there is little on television to balance out that women don’t need to be like Amy Farrah Fowler to be mega clever geeks. This is a hard piece to write because, of course, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with being like Amy. The trouble is that not all clever girl geeks are like Amy, any more than you have to look like fellow character  Penny to be a waitress/actress. The show cleverly plays on stereotypes for its humour, but where are the real ‘Amy’s in our media representations?

Things ARE getting better. Maggie Philbin and Carol Vorderman have been admirable poster children for female scientists/mathematicians, yet pop culture continues only nominally to portray women as successful leaders, let alone as leading in technology and science. As technology and science are getting more airtime as they become more ‘consumery’, surely the time has come for this to change?

So for this year’s Ada Lovelace Day, I’m choosing Hedy Lamar as my unsung hero. Unsung? Many have written before about her achievements, but people write about her achievements as an actress – a very beautiful one at that –  or as a technologist: Hedy’s thoughts underpinned secure communications (and weapons) technology for the military and now ubiquitous mobile communications . In 1942, during the War, along with composer George Antheil, she patented the “Secret Communication System” –  changing radio frequencies simultaneously to prevent the enemy detecting messages. The idea was ahead of its time – the technology wasn’t yet ready,but once transistors arrived, and were small enough, it underinned ‘mobile’ as we know it.

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Digital Growth Day

Digital Growth

The end of last week saw the London Digital Growth Day, a  day of great talks and presentations at London’s TechHub, followed by the humming Digital Summer Party.

The two talks that I  found most  interesting were ‘Disruptive Content’, by Microsoft (was Nokia) with some insights from the social media team, and a talk by Sam Noble of Koozai on the thin line between personal and social presences. Sam’s talk was a great discussion based on their approach to the ownership of social media presences, and one I’m contemplating building out to a blog for State of Social. Watch this space!

(Incidentally, my last post there was on Social Media Guidelines.)

A couple of interesting points (worth sharing) made included: Read more »

First Soma Salon

When Mike Butcher of TechCrunch fame posted the following, my interest was inevitably piqued:

Two visions of the future continue to play out. Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ featured a society under a ‘telescreen’ dictatorship, where ‘Victory Coffee’ was served in cafés to people who yearned for free expression outside of the watchful eye of the state.

It’s a world in which the more extreme elements of the NSA and GCHQ might feel at home. In Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ the drug Soma is served to pacify the population, reminiscent of the ‘dopamine effect’ many privately-owned social networks have on us today. In both cases the new industrial revolution of technology is often empowering the previously powerless, but also aiding and abetting the powers that be.

But what future do we choose? Where should we take our society? Orwell, Marx, Trotsky, Huxley, even Thatcher — all had visions of the future. But where do WE choose to take our technological and scientific revolution? Let’s discuss these and other questions in this new Salon which will range far wider than the ’tech startups’ discussion many of us are used to.

View over the BBC news factory, taken by Mike Butcher

View over the BBC news factory, taken by Mike Butcher

Against the exciting, buzzy backdrop of the BBC (curse the camera on my iphone for being broken – Daleks in Twitter’s offices last week, daleks at the Beeb yesterday – a theme is emerging – Doctor Who fever is upon us!), a fairly random group of people met to see where this discussion took us.

There are challenges to putting a group of strong minded, independent people in a room together, and Bill Thompson did a great job of marshalling us (Mike was detained writing up an important, of sadly familiar, story: European Investor Admits He Pestered Female Entrepreneur For Sex In “Deal” Email. Well done to him for giving it some priority!)

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