Advances in Connected Health from the MIT Media Lab

I’ve always been a fan of the accomplishments of the folks at the MIT Media Lab.  Their accomplishments have been legion, and just a few admirable highlights are:  their ability to continually attract large industrial sponsorships; their open IP model; their collective ability to look 10-15 years out and capture those innovations that will be mainstream at that point; and not least their efforts to add technologies that will aid in the repair of our broken health care delivery system.

I’m excited to say we have a big Media Lab focus at this year’s Symposium.  Two of their current giants, Sandy Pentland and Rosalind Picard, will be speaking  as well as a Media Lab graduate, Tim Bickmore, who is doing amazing things with his program at Northeastern.

These three have something in common that excites me.  They are exploring the boundaries of technology in its ability to substitute for humans in the caring process.

Sandy has been prolific in commercializing his work, first by founding Cogito, a company whose goal is to pick up your mood state based on a 10 second voice print.  Subsequently, he launched, which is founded on the basis that all of those electronic bread crumbs you leave behind each day (GPS data, who you text, who you call, where you spend money and what you spend it on, etc.) can be analyzed to come up with a unique health behavior print that can aid in both public health applications and in encouraging you to improve your own health.  I recruited Sandy to be on the Scientific Advisory Board of our Center’s spin out, Healthrageous, because I value his perspective on this topic of disparate data collection and analysis.

Roz has been working for years (she was Tim Bickmore’s adviser) on ‘affective computing.’  She is also a founder of Affectiva, a company whose technology can objectively assess your emotional reaction to stimuli via a wrist sensor and face-recognition technology.

Tim’s team continues to impress with their implementation of Relational Agents, software agents that are designed to exhibit relationship-building behaviors.  His most recent achievement is showing that, strategically used, these software agents can participate in health care delivery and that patients prefer them to doctors and nurses.

So how do they all fit together?  As the demand for health care services (largely driven by lifestyle-related chronic illnesses) skyrockets, we don’t have enough providers to meet the need and it doesn’t make sense to try to train or import them.  We’re also trying to control costs, 60-70% of which are related to human resources, so adding more will not solve that problem.  We MUST adopt solutions that increase self-care and spread providers across larger groups of patients.  However, for a number of cogent reasons, we can’t abandon our roots as a caring profession to pull this off.