Hot TOpic Session at the Virtual HLF

September 22, 2020

Health, technology and data: Which is the best way to go?


Organized and moderated by Eva Wolfangel, multiple award-winning science journalist, and Shwetak Patel, recipient of 2018 ACM Prize in Computing

Technology, sensors, data and artificial intelligence/machine learning seem hopeful when it comes to our health and healthcare system of the future. Even though many innovations and new methods are promising theoretically possible, the details make the difference, which are often an underestimated challenge. For example, many applications have been developed for emerging countries such as India or African states in Western countries and with a Western perspective – often without thoroughly considering the infrastructure in these countries. The local point of view is extremely important in order to solve a problem effectively.

Starting with the right questions, researching the real problems and challenges with the infrastructure such as the Internet or electricity, as well as questions of privacy and the needs of the population are important to consider - there is a lot you have to examine to find solutions using technology.

However, if applied well with a holistic perspective and the right collaborators, technology can offer a great future for health care. What would be possible if we could collect and use all conceivable data and react accordingly to the findings - simultaneously protecting people's privacy and civil liberties? If we could always find the best way to take care of our health, if we could predict everything one can imagine? Of course, there is the reality: What state of the art methods in computer science could help form the perfect healthcare system of the future? What are the next important steps toward a promising future? This year's Hot Topic will circle around questions like this.

We will focus on two main aspects: the first half of the Hot Topic will be devoted to the question of what the real conditions are like in different parts of the world and what the largest challenges are – from the big questions around pandemics to seemingly small details that make a huge difference. The first panel will consist of individuals with many years of experience working on global health, whose perspective is vital for the development of meaningful technology solutions and applications. What have we learned so far from the Corona crisis, for example? What would the world look like if all collectible data had been available at the earliest possible time? Which aspects of this knowledge can we use in the future, for future pandemics or viruses? Beyond Covid19, what are the biggest challenges in global health? How can computer science and math be of help? Where are the limitations of statistical power?

The second half of the Hot Topic will be dedicated to recent and possible solutions. How can machine learning help in the development of new vaccines, for example? Which apps and tools currently help to improve health? If all conceivable data were available: what could science achieve? Immortality? To cure all diseases? (certainly not – but what is the end goal?)

Which drugs would become obsolete if lifestyle adjustments  that erased symptoms were prescribed instead and those behavioral changes were supported by technology? If we could build a health care system from scratch based on all this knowledge: what would it look like? Next, how can we get there?