mark cerqueira well-rounded nerd

All of Us and the Big Data Future of Medicine

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently announced the All of Us research program:

The All of Us Research Program is a historic effort to gather data from one million or more people living in the United States to accelerate research and improve health. By taking into account individual differences in lifestyle, environment, and biology, researchers will uncover paths toward delivering precision medicine.

This is cool. In my eyes, our medical system is still very reactive: we address things after they’ve occurred. Yes, we have our annual checkups. Yes, we start screening for cancer if we have a family history. Yes, we have things we can measure like cholesterol and blood sugar that serve as indicators for future risk of certain diseases.

But we could be digging in and doing better to make medicine more reliably predictive so we can catch things years before we are catching them today. As someone in the video promoting the program says, “Prevention is the key to longevity.” All of Us is a great step in that direction. By collecting a large amount of data for a large cohort we’re building a strong foundation of knowledge in the field of medicine.

But what does the future look like? There are two big technologies that I believe will radically transform medicine:

  1. Implantable biosensors can be implanted at birth and continuously monitor our vitals collecting a vast amount of data. Your cohort for medical research could balloon without too much processing overhead as these devices could send data over the Internet. The quality, accuracy, reliability, and frequency of data also grows with implanted biosensors.
  2. Machine learning can sift through this trove of data across a large population to identify precursors and indicators of disease and illness that we are currently unaware of. AI already does an amazing job of [diagnosing heart disease and lung cancer] accurately.

Perhaps there are subtle precursors to heart attacks that would give us notice hours or maybe even days in advance? The possibilities are endless.

This is taking a very rosy and optimistic outlook on the future of AI and medicine in the larger scope of how things currently work. In the (dysfunctional) United States health care system there would also be opportunities abound for profit-hungry companies to abuse this increased awareness of our health. That said, the more we know the more we can do to stay healthy to enjoy a fruitful life.