Welcome to Episode 105 of The Digital Life, a show about our adventures in the world of design and technology. I’m your host, Jon Follett. This week, our guest is Juhan Sonin, Director of Involution Studios, who’s here to discuss with us healthcare experience and the Internet of Things. Juhan will be speaking on these topics at the Rework Internet of Things Summit in Boston on this Friday, May 29th. Juhan, welcome to the show.
Thank you. Thank you for having me here.
Tell us, how do you see the experience of healthcare changing?
Hell, it’s not changing fast enough. It’s never fast enough, but over the past 12, 15 years that I’ve been dabbling in health, and designing for my health and other’s health, there have been a few movements that have finally infiltrated even the hospital systems that we frequent or try to infrequently go to based on severe health occurrences. One of them is that the patient is the center of the equation. Just 20 years ago, 10 years ago, and still sometimes today, patients are looked at, one, as one of many things in the orbit, right, and not necessarily the central thing, central atomic thing. What’s shifted is that … One part is that we have outsourced our health the past, I don’t know, 100 years or so, ever since we left the doctor that came to your house in the town, where we were highly invested in our own health, on our family’s health. Now, for the past 80, 100 years, we’ve let other people help us dictate what that is, and so we’ve grown into this, “Someone else can do it for me.”
I think that there’s a slight shift in that. The system is actually forcing us to care more about ourselves every day. We have to be more vigilant of what we eat, of what we do, and so I think people are becoming a little more in touch with that. I think that, along with the healthcare systems, were forcing us to become the center of our universe, which we should be, are two big things over the past decade that are gaining US traction. It’s not just the outcasts or the early adopters of Medicine X, or another micro groups of highly motivated patients. It’s now becoming, I think, even more mainstream.
What’s the role that the Internet of Things is going to play in the coming revolution in human health?
I remember, Jon, as kids, when Pong came out, right, or when the first Atari system came out, my parents wouldn’t buy it for me, so I had to … goddamn, I had to use my own money for it, but it was awesome. There were lots of things that predicated that like the microprocessor and things back from the ‘60s and ‘70s that became an everyday or more mass production unit. I remember the LCD back also when we were kids, so like, “Hey, I can get a digital watch.” Not just a digital watch, there was actually things we could program on it or that the engineers who built these little digital watches. I’m just doing it from my own frame of reference when I grew up. Then, hell, in the ‘80s, right? We had the Walkman, the VCR, there were Betamax, whatever you had, the PC ’86, my daddy had … In my room, it was pretty awesome. The CD player, then CDs in the late ‘80s, but that’s when I started getting into it.
You could see this progression of how does the technology invade your house, and more and more of that. If you go through the ‘90s and like the past decade, we see even more devices, microchips on almost everything. Where is that going? It’s becoming where my home, things that I have in my house, are becoming even more connected, spitting data here and there. Now, I think, what’s happening, what you’re seeing is that the home is now going to be picking up much more of my behavior, much more of my health, automagically.
That is one key thing that the internet of things or whatever euphemistic term you want to use for this will be picking up more and more where micro devices, the sensor does … Will be plastered in my home, in my car, in my pocket with my phone, all this stuff. Hopefully, over time, more and more connected, more and more telling each other the data streams, and little services are telling each other stories about what I’m doing, and then saying, “Hey, Juhan. You should be really be getting out there and doing X, Y and Z.”
Lark, a little app that’s on my phone, is a very early start of that. It’s taking what Zork did back … Talk about 25, 30, 40 years ago, did with UIs and tying communication is it’s using the tellurometer. It’s using some tricks of behavior matrices of what I’m doing with my phone or not, and to start to suss out some … How do I change what I’m doing in order to live healthier a little bit. I think more and more, we’re going to see the house dominate with these netted sensors to start to pick up on things way in advance before they manifest to something that is really very difficult to change.
What do you see is the opportunities for and the impacts of technology and design in this area?
Pretty freaking massive, but for designers and for engineers, there is a … We need to understand what he human baseline is and start collecting that much, much, much, much, much, much, much earlier. This is not something that we … We have to start now. We have to start now. It’s probably too late for us, and that’s that. As we grow up, we’re doing these benchmark readings over time. The question is, “What are we reading?” What are those top 100, top 500, top 10 even health signals that we can start to really rally behind, and understand, and make decisions on.
That, for me, is really important. What are those signals? We should come up with a national set, “Here are the top 100 signals that basically inform our lifestyle, our lives, our biology,” and have some kind of impact on that. It can be rank ordered. I think that would be a first-order kind of play. Then, from there, you have all sorts of these little devices, and services, and ways of getting that information to make something more meaningful.
It’s not just me typing data in or getting a little spit out on how many steps I took. Well, cute. That only gets me so far. I need it to be a predictive kind of service. I need it to tell me not just I need to change my behavior. No kidding, there are lots of things that just tell me that. I need it to really be an agent for me, some kind of beautiful agent that gives me the right nudges based on my demographic, based on my phenotype, based on all of the omics in order to really for me to change for better and for long. Because if I just changed for the week, that doesn’t do me any good.
Right. In your piece “Bathroom to Healthroom” that we published on the Invo site a couple of months back, you talked a little bit about Stage Zero detection and treatment. Could you explain that and talk about how it will extend the human lifespan?
Right now, we are a reactionary healthcare troop. We feel something, something, a little amiss, and we’re like, “Aha, something is a little funky,” and then you either self-diagnose, you ask your phone what the hell is happening with you, you’re talking to your doctor in your pocket, or you go to your clinician, or your partner looks at it because some … Your back, you can’t see it. You look in the mirror. It’s very much of something happens, I react to it, right?
What’s shifting is that we are going to be able to sniff out, hear, listen, see not necessarily with our eyes or our ears, but with machine eyes and ears listening to our phone conversations. I know it’s freaky. Echo … Alexa at home, now that I have it in my living room and my kitchen, she is going to hear my walk is changing slowly because this got like half dozen or more microphones in it. She can pick up my gate.
Before I even notice there’s a little hiccup in my hip, she will be able to determine, say, “You, honey. Now, I’ve noticed something. There’s a little shift in your walking steps.” I didn’t even notice, right? Same thing on my phone. My phone will say … Siri or whoever the agent is, “You, hon. We’ve noticed the vocal cords changing size. Maybe it’s only about 10%, 15% difference, but that means that you’re going to have a cold on set in about two days.” “Okay. Then, what do I do about it?” “Hey, go get this nice personalized micro pill from Walgreens or wherever your pharmacist or drug kind of choice.” It cuts my sickness in half, right?
That’s in between what we have now and Stage Zero. Stage Zero is going to be when machines, biological machines, maybe looking inside of us all 24/7, 365, and looking at things when they happened at the DNA, RNA level when our cells replicate bizarrely that it takes care of it nearly immediately. Right? That’s Stage Zero. I don’t wait for the cauliflower to grow and sprout on my back. By that point, it’s too freaking late, then you’re using a hacksaw, right? I want this to happen at the cellular level, and that’s we’re starting to get at with some of these services.
If you were giving a new designer advice about the digital services and materials, the networking technologies that a person would need to be familiar with to create this new health experience, what are those services, and technologies, and methods? How would you tell this young designer what to pursue?
A young designer, I’d say, “Get to freaking know your body.” One, start understanding your own biology. That’s the first thing that anyone should do. If you can’t start to make decisions for yourself, how the hell are you going to make them for anybody else? That’s the number one thing. Go get checkup, go see what your levels are, start experimenting with diet, actually see what’s happening when you eat things, right? Experiment on yourself a little bit. That’s the broad sense.
12:10], right, or whatever kind of experience you want. You need to experience the healthcare system from a personal point of view. That would be the second thing is engage with the healthcare system.
The third thing is understanding, I think, the system that we live in. It’s one thing to experience healthcare by you going to the doctor, by you signing up for insurance, which is a requirement right now. But it’s another thing to understand how a doctor who’s a concierge service, how they work, how a clinic works, how a small outcropping of a hospital works in regards to its bigger umbrella.
How does a big hospital operate or not? What are the laws surrounding our data? What are the governance models around providing health? I think at least understand the basic system. I think a parallel track is start designing your own health. I mean, if you could. That’s what I started with. I thought it was a good exercise. I still do it now. It’s like, “Oh, god. What would I like to see if I was managing my health every day?”
Those are three quick things to do. They’re much more on the actual idea of what is health, healthcare biology versus what are the individual technologies that are going to help me. I think there’s just a basic understanding that we need to do as humans. Get back to something that we did in tribal days where we had to fix … Heal thyself, right? There was probably a tribal leader that helped and gave us remedies for things. Again, thankfully, we’ve come a long way since then for our medicine, but if you don’t understand the basics about you, I think you don’t have … It’d be a long way to go in designing for health.
Juhan, thanks for joining us today and talking with us a little bit about the healthcare experience.
I can see that it just pumped you up. You were just so excited.
Listeners, remember that while you’re listening to the show, you can follow along with the things we’re mentioning here in real time. Just head over to thedigitalife.com. That’s just one “L” on “thedigitalife”, and go to the page for this episode. We’ve included links to pretty much everything mentioned by everybody, so it’s a rich information resource to take advantage of while you’re listening or afterward if you’re trying to remember something that you liked.
If you want to follow us outside of the show, you can follow me on twitter, @jonfollett. That’s J-O-N-F-O-L-L-E-T-T. Of course, the whole show is brought to you by Involution Studios, which you can check out at goinvo.com. That’s G-O-I-N-V-O-.com. Juhan, how can listeners get in touch with you?
They probably shouldn’t or don’t want to, but if they really have this urge to have a prickly answer to any question they have, you can get me at J-U-H-A-Nemail@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or get me through online hellhole circles at Twitter, @-J-S-O-N-I-N, jsonin.
That’s it for Episode 105 of The Digital Life. I’m Jon Follett, and I’ll see you next time.