When asked on our recent Q and A podcast about improvements in technology that are missing despite the vast improvements, I highlighted health and disability. Admittedly rather rashly, I highlighted that some things in technology really don’t matter, and research can be better diverted into helping people improve their standard of life.
Silicon Valley’s golden companies have tended to produce mobiles, chips, and software, rather than change the world’s health. There are, however, companies that divert billions in revenue to projects in healthcare, disability, and well-being. In part one of our look at health and technology, we are taking a look at one particularly revolutionary company in health — Google.
Google Life Science
The Mountain View behemoth is still trying to live up to its ‘Don’t be evil’ mantra — despite growing to the monopolistic levels it is now. The company pours billions into its top secret research development branch, ‘Google X’, to specifically solve some of the world’s health problems. The overwhelming team of scientists and programmers in the life science division have already created technology that is truly life-changing.
Setting their sights firmly on targeting cancer, Google has developed technology to detect not only cancer, but also impending heart attacks and other diseases. All this tech can be squeezed into a wrist band or smartwatch, albeit accompanied by a swallowed pill containing nano particles.
“We’re trying to change medicine from being episodic and reactive, like going to the doctor saying ‘my arm hurts’, to being proactive and preventative,” Dr Andrew Conrad — speaking to the Atlantic spoke of the plan that the rise of affordable tiny technology will bring.
These nano-particles will then search and detect cancer cells, making the cells ‘light up’ in order for the wristband to detect them. Detection of dangerous cells would be possible when they first began circulating around the body. Enabling much earlier diagnosis, but more importantly meaning treatment, could begin long before any symptoms appear.
Whilst creating this revolutionary tech, Google stumbled upon testing issues. Like any innovating company, they didn’t rest. They solved it by creating artificial skin — using a unique combination of synthetic and real skin taken from donors. It displays the same “auto fluorescence and biochemical components” of the real thing.
Although it is very early stages for the revolution, the artificial skin is being used to calculate how light from nano-particles and body cells travel to the surface of the skin. Such technology could be used to detect disease, infection, blood chemistry, or simply activity and nutrition. Something that Google is very much behind having already introduced their Google Fit platform.
Fit For Google
This isn’t the first time Google has set sights on health and well being. Building a platform that they hoped would be the backbone for all health systems back in 2008, Google Health aimed to be the back end system of choice for the individual, business, and industry alike. Introducing the ability to harness personal and professional data and improve the population’s health.
Unfortunately, Google never managed to make use of the data due to red tape, and simply provided a service for storing the data from health records. Larry Page told the Financial Times that the service was limited due to regulation controlling the use of health data. Eventually closing the service in 2012, Google took its time and produced the spin off service Google Fit at their I/O developer’s conference in 2014.
“In some industries, it takes 10 or 20 years to go from an idea to something being real. Healthcare is certainly one of those areas, Maybe we should shoot for the things that are really, really important so ten or 20 years from now we have those things done.” — Larry Page
When compared to Google Health, Fit is much more powerful tool. Using any Android device with on-board sensors to automatically track data, Fit is able to split all your activity into time spent standing still, walking, running, and even cycling — all with surprising accuracy. However, Google was not content with this, matching Apple’s moves by updating the service recently to make it offer estimates to the distance covered and the amount of calories you have burnt during the day.
This platform also supports the ability for others to store and share data collected from other apps. With partners, such as Nike, Runtastic, and Polar already syncing data to Fit, it’s apparent that Google has longevity for the service in mind. With back end number crunching and server farms waiting to be filled, all that is needed is the expansion back into full health and well being monitoring. Technology is much further forward than it was during 2008. Android Wear is now supporting its own WiFi and GPS bands, allowing for truly phone free Google Fit monitoring.
Other indicators are beginning to show that Google may just be ready to tie in other businesses platforms and services to try and take on Apple’s Health onslaught. Google Genomics is already a successful storage service for healthcare and medical research to process DNA data. Finding a large use in emergency medicine, research and commercial industry.
Google’s ventures arm already has a large amount invested in the DNA profiling company 23andMe, which offers online testing for genealogical profiling, detailed analysis of predispositions to health issues, and even possible reactions to certain drugs. Along with a staked investment in a collaboration between Abbvie and Calico — the start-up aimed to taking issues associated with ageing.
“For too many of our friends and family, life has been cut short or the quality of their life is too often lacking. Art is one of the crazy ones who thinks it doesn’t have to be this way. There is no one better suited to lead this mission and I am excited to see the results.” — Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about Art Levinson and Calico
Access to the Internet is not limited to the large computer it once was. Over 60% of us carry around a mini computer in our pocket all day — the smartphone. Instant communication is at the end of our fingertips, literally just a few taps or swipes away. Technology companies, such as Google, are working extremely hard to make sure everyone is included.
At Google I/O, there have been many presentations covering disability inclusion with Android, and the video above is a perfect example of that. In 2013, Google held the “Enabling Blind and Low-Vision Accessibility on Android” presentation. Google engineer T.V. Ramam showcased changes to Android to make it easier for developers to make their applications accessible for people with blindness or low-visibility. Google aimed their spoken feedback service ‘TalkBack’ to aid people with visual issues, and designed their own plugin to allow the use of connected Braille emulators available in the play store (BrailleBack).
So next time, as I was, you are overly critical of huge companies churning out what could appear pointless smartphones, software, or simply showing your adverts, think about Google life sciences. Billions spent each year to aid solve some of the world’s biggest problems We very well could be seeing higher survival rates, better fitness levels and highly advanced disease detection in the very near future. All with help from a search company.