This week in San Diego, Singularity University hosted its annual Exponential Medicine conference. The conference aims to connect the dots between healthcare disciplines and cutting-edge tech by convening medical practitioners, technologists, entrepreneurs, and over 80 expert speakers from the field.

It’s easy to say “healthcare is broken” and call it a day, but a quote from brilliant thinker Maria Popova reminds us of the power of optimism to create change:

“Pessimists can tell you what’s wrong with the world, but it’s the optimists who set out to change it.”

There’s still considerable work to be done to create more effective healthcare systems in the US and worldwide. That said, at the conference we learned about incredible progress we can both celebrate and focus on moving forward.

For a look inside the conference, you can watch:

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Daniel Kraft kicking off the conference

THE BIG PICTURE

Healthcare as we’ve known it for decades is evolving. New AI systems are helping medical practitioners make sense of complex patient histories and sorting through big data to help doctors make better diagnoses. Advances in robotics and synthetic biology are transforming precision medicine and minimally invasive surgery.

But we’re still left with big questions like, “How do we use these technologies to bring quality care to all populations around the globe?” and, “What are the ethics of having AI make choices that impact human lives?”

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Divya Chander, MD PhD presenting during The Brain and Beyond session.

There’s also a flip side to new healthcare technologies. All things digital are vulnerable to cybercrime, and hospitals are facing large-scale security breaches in medical data. Improved cybersecurity will be critical as we gather more data.

Below, we’ve collected Singularity Hub’s coverage of the conference. These articles explore developments in technologies advancing healthcare and medicine and also probe into some of the big unanswered questions within the field.


HEALTHCARE 2.0

“It’s a Powerful Time to Reshape Healthcare Across the Planet”
“Daniel Kraft described how we are now seeing innovations in healthcare that used to only exist in science fiction plots—like when Dr. Beverly Crusher in Star Trek would find a brain tumor before it was too late. The real life version has doctors 3D printing visuals of tumors to better understand the tumor.” –Alison E. Berman

Taking the Pulse of Medtech With the Exponential Medicine MEDy Awards
“At this year’s MEDy Awards, startups focused on preventative care via wearables, apps, and data sets. The common thread: rather than treating disease only after it has advanced to the point of being discoverable, let’s create systems to prevent disease in the first place.” –Matthew Straub


ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

We’ll Soon Trust AI More Than Doctors to Diagnose Disease
“Humans aren’t set up to handle the vast and ever-growing chunks of health data the latest technologies are generating. From proliferating health sensors to whole genome sequencing, our world will soon be awash in more health data points than stars in the universe.” –Jason Dorrier

The Future of Surgery Is Robotic, Data-Driven, and Artificially Intelligent
“In the years since da Vinci first came out, many other surgical robots have arrived. And today there’s a new generation coming online, like the Verb robot, a joint venture between Google and Johnson and Johnson. This means surgery is about to get even more interesting.” –Sveta McShane

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Catherine Mohr, vice president of strategy at Intuitive Surgical

Bridging the Mental Healthcare Gap With Artificial Intelligence
“What if artificial intelligence could bring quality and affordable mental health support to anyone with an internet connection? This is X2AI’s mission, a startup that’s built Tess AI to provide quality mental healthcare to anyone, regardless of income or location. X2AI calls Tess a ‘psychological AI.’ ” –Alison E. Berman

  • Read more about AI here.

ROBOTICS

Robotic Tissue-Slicing Microscopes and DIY Crowd Science to Accelerate Research
“During a session on disrupting clinical practice at Exponential Medicine conference we got a look into how cloud computing, robotics, artificial intelligence, and advanced imaging technology are transforming the practices of pathology and non-invasive heart imaging and enabling crowd-sourced medical research. Here’s a look at three interesting companies we heard from.” –Alison E. Berman

  • Read more about robotics here.

LONGEVITY

How Humans Can Live 100 Healthy Years
“If there was ever an industry in need of a paradigm change, it’s healthcare. The World Health Organization estimated total spending on global health in 2012 was $6.5 trillion. And that cost will increase unless pioneers develop new technologies and frameworks that focus on preventative medicine.” –David J. Hill

  • Read more about longevity here.

SYNTHETIC BIOLOGY

Writing the First Human Genome by 2026 Is Synthetic Biology’s Grand Challenge
“[Hessel] thinks 2026 for a fully engineered human genome is realistic if synthetic biology follows an exponential pace like genome sequencing did. ‘So, a new race is starting, ladies and gentlemen,’ [he] said…‘It’s still in the organizational phase, but it’s going to accelerate, and guaranteed, by 2026, we’re going to succeed.’ ”

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Raymond McCauley

3 DNA Technologies That Will Forever Change Your Home Life
“Today, anyone can have their entire genome sequenced in 12 hours for $1,000, and companies are racing towards a future where sequencing a complete human genome costs just $100. McCauley predicts that in 2018, the cost of sequencing a human genome will be under $20, or the cost of a delivery pizza. By 2022, it’ll be the same cost as flushing a toilet.” –Sveta McShane

  • Read more about biotech here. 

How We’ll Stop Future Pandemics? Engineer Vaccines From the Ground Up
“As genomic sequencing, computer power, and protein engineering advance and converge, Poste envisions a world capable of a very rapid and wide-scale response to future viral threats.” –Jason Dorrier


VIRTUAL REALITY

How to Train Thousands of Surgeons at the Same Time in Virtual Reality
“In April of 2016, [Dr. Shafi Ahmed] live-streamed a cancer surgery in virtual reality. The procedure, a low-risk removal of a colon tumor in a man in his 70s, was filmed in 360 video and streamed live across the world. The high-def 4K camera captured the doctors’ every movement, and those watching could see everything that was happening in immersive detail.” –Sveta McShane


NANOTECHNOLOGY

Detecting Cancer Early With Nanosensors and a Urine Test
“Imagine a sensor so small it could circulate around the body, find cancer, then send a signal to the outside world. Bhatia thinks nanotechnology can get us there. Hundred-nanometer particles (one thousand times smaller than the thickness of a human hair) are injected into a blood vessel…The particles then detect enzymes that tumors make as they’re invading.”

 


GLOBAL HEALTH

5 Billion People Need Better Healthcare — Technology Will Help Deliver It
“If technology can democratize healthcare, why not start with one of the most challenging cases? Can a hospital in Burundi serve as a platform to show the world that innovation and technology can exponentially improve the wellness of the global majority?” –Vanessa Bates Ramirez 


 CYBERSECURITY

Health Devices Are All Too Hackable—Here’s What You Need to Know
“Marc Goodman asked the room, ‘Who here likes big data and analytics?’ Everyone raised their hands. To which he responded, ‘Criminals love big data and analytics too.’ Today in healthcare, there are a few key security threats that patients, practitioners, and hospitals all need to be aware of so they can take measures to prevent them.” -Alison E. Berman


Want to keep up with coverage from Exponential Medicine? Get the latest insights here.

Alison tells the stories of purpose-driven leaders and is fascinated by various intersections of technology and society. When not keeping a finger on the pulse of all things Singularity University, you'll likely find Alison in the woods sipping coffee and reading philosophy (new book recommendations are welcome).