Category Archives: Look at This!

“Nothing in this world is indifferent to us:” Technology and Ethics through the Words of the Pope

20-09-2015 Incontro Giovani

With the visit of Pope Francis to the United States, I thought it might be interesting and pertinent to explore emerging technologies in the context of the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I self-describe my religion on Facebook as Zen Pagan Catholic (which makes for some interesting conversations from time to time), and primarily practice as a Catholic, but I have a deep fondness for many other faiths as well (Quaker! Judaism! More!) and like to look at ideas and concepts in a broad ethical framework. This is just a small ‘deep dive’ into an area where a global leader in ethics touches on the impacts and ethics surrounding emerging and existing technologies. There are many such, and many ways to explore this.

I thought the image opening this post was a real treasure illustrating how current technologies, services, and memes (selfies? Instagram?) are being adopted by or associated with even institutions as ancient as the Catholic Church. This image, and most of the images used in this post, are from the Flickr stream of the Vatican itself. That says something right there about the adoption and use of social media and new communication technologies by the Vatican and the Papacy.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis released his encyclical Laudato Si’, subtitled “On Care for our Common Home.” It made a lot of buzz, and you’ve probably already heard about it. I immediately started scanning the Italian version, and as soon as I could find the English translation on the Vatican website, I downloaded the PDF. Very quickly I realized that throughout the document there are an enormous number of mentions of technology, its strengths and weaknesses. I was, shall we say, surprised? I wanted to blog about it then, but I think this is actually a better time.

Pope Francis begins Laudato Si’ with establishing the context for it in earlier works of church doctrine, specifically referencing a presentation to the FAO by Pope Paul VI back in 1970 and another from the the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew in 2012. Back in 1970, Pope Paul had adopted use of television and the existing technology structure of the times for carrying the message. I was surprised again to learn how many videos are in Youtube of his travels that year: departing from Rome, Hong Kong, Philippines, Syndney (Australia), and more. So, this image from the Vatican of Pope Francis in front of film cameras might be very similar to views that would have existed of Pope Paul VI.

24-09-2015 Visita al Congresso degli Stati Uniti d'America

Pope Francis cites one specific portion of Pope Paul’s words on the risks and importance of technology, but there are some great nuggets in the rest of the speech as well.


“But the carrying out of these technical possibilities at an accelerated pace is not accomplished without dangerous repercussions on the balance of our natural surroundings. The progressive deterioration of that which has generally come to be called the environment, risks provoking a veritable ecological catastrophe. Already we see the pollution of the air we breathe, the water we drink. We see the pollution of rivers, lakes, even oceans – to the point of inspiring fear of a true «biological death» in the near future, if energetic measures are not immediately and courageously taken and rigorously put into practice. It is a formidable prospect which you must diligently explore in order to save from destruction the fruit of millions of years of natural and human selection. In brief, everything is bound up together.”

“Will the prodigious progressive mastery of plant, animal and human life and the discovery of even the secrets of matter lead to anti-matter and to the explosion of death? In this decisive moment of its history, humanity hesitates, uncertain before fear and hope. Who still does not see this? The most extraordinary scientific progress, the most astounding technical feats and the most amazing economic growth, unless accompanied by authentic moral and social progress, will in the long run go against man.”

“We must repeat this today: the Church, on her part, in every domain of human action encourages scientific and technical progress, but always claiming respect for the inviolable rights of the human person whose primary guarantors are the public authorities.”

“One of the best assured invariable principles of your action is that the finest technical achievements and the greatest economic progress cannot effect by themselves the development of a people. However necessary they may be, planning and money are not enough. Their indispensable contribution, like that of the technology which they sponsor, would be sterile were it not made fruitful by men’s confidence and their progressive conviction that they can little by little get away from their miserable condition through work made possible with means at their disposal.”

The words and thoughts are so powerful and so relevant today, that I find it almost hard to believe they were spoken roughly 45 years ago. The really critical part is “unless accompanied by authentic moral and social progress.” I don’t care what religion you are, or aren’t, that much should seem like common sense: that technological discovery unbounded by ethics is a risk to all. Isn’t that the story behind an overwhelming number of science fiction stories and novels? Take a technology, just one, and see how it could go wrong. Then try taking two, or three. And then just imagine everything we are discovering now, all of it. It is frankly astonishing that we persist, and it speaks well of us that we do. That we haven’t destroyed ourselves yet, despite so many close calls, is hopeful. How long can we ride this rollercoaster and keep from flinging ourselves off?

That’s the introduction. Now, what does Pope Francis say to expand on these earlier thoughts from Pope Paul VI? He mentions technology at least 95 times in the encyclical. NINETY-FIVE TIMES in six chapters, with the preponderance of them in Chapter Three: “The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, for which the first section is titled, “Technology: Creativity and Power.” Whoa. Frankly, technology, while a significant presence in the document, is only a small part of it. Here is a visualization of the major themes in Laudato Si’. You can find “technology” at the tip of the far left lobe of the leaf.

Laudato Si 2

When he does mention technology, sometimes it is to point out technologies of concern, or philosophies of concern, and other times it is to point out technologies that are desperately needed, or which need to be more widely available. This document is the opposite of a Luddite point of view, instead carefully and judiciously framing the conversation around technology in the context of where is it helpful for the world and humanity, as compared to when is it simply being developed out of curiosity, laziness, or for its own sake. Obviously, Pope Francis argues clearly and strongly for a sane, humane philosophy of technological development and access, within the overarching vision of stewardship and responsibility. Because the document as a whole focuses on ecology, it is often assumed that this is all that’s in it. Pope Francis takes it farther, talking about technology in the service of equity and social justice, medicine, transportation, artistry, welfare, and others, attempting to show through that diversity how a single challenge connects throughout the entirety of human life and how we touch and connect throughout the entirety of the context in which we exist, the world.

At least, that’s the way I’m reading the document. I’ve selected just a few examples (24), a few snippets, phrases and sentences that seem illustrative to me. There is much that was relevant to the questions and concerns raised, written in beautiful language, that is perhaps not explicitly focused on technology. Much of what he says on other topics echoes strongly the debates in healthcare from the empowered patient movement, the flipped clinic conversations, and other initiatives designed on making healthcare more responsive and patient-centric. Where he talks about economics and lifestyle choices, it echoes the need for patient choice, and placing clinical guidelines and recommendations within the context of the patient’s goals and priorities for their own life. Pope Francis places a strong emphasis on collaborative and shared decisionmaking. I have made a conscious effort to not select the non-technological quotes for this post, but I sincerely hope that these few tidbits below might inspire you to look more deeply into this exceptionally lovely, deeply thoughtful, and eloquent essay.

Festival of families in Philadelphia Festival of families in Philadelphia



“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. … Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. … All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.”


“Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.”


“[T]heir disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful.”


“We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.”


“The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity.”


“Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches.”


“Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.”


“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. … The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests.”


“In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: rivers, polluted for decades, have been cleaned up; native woodlands have been restored; landscapes have been beautified thanks to environmental renewal projects; beautiful buildings have been erected; advances have been made in the production of non-polluting energy and in the improvement of public transportation.”


“Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution.”


“The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm.”


“We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.”


“A science which would offer solutions to the great issues would necessarily have to take into account the data generated by other fields of knowledge, including philosophy and social ethics; but this is a difficult habit to acquire today. Nor are there genuine ethical horizons to which one can appeal. Life gradually becomes a surrender to situations conditioned by technology, itself viewed as the principal key to the meaning of existence.”


“Yet we can once more broaden our vision. We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral. Liberation from the dominant technocratic paradigm does in fact happen sometimes, for example, when cooperatives of small producers adopt less polluting means of production, and opt for a non-consumerist model of life, recreation and community. Or when technology is directed primarily to resolving people’s concrete problems, truly helping them live with more dignity and less suffering. Or indeed when the desire to create and contemplate beauty manages to overcome reductionism through a kind of salvation which occurs in beauty and in those who behold it. An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door. Will the promise last, in spite of everything, with all that is authentic rising up in stubborn resistance?”


“There is also the fact that people no longer seem to believe in a happy future; they no longer have blind trust in a better tomorrow based on the present state of the world and our technical abilities. … This is not to reject the possibilities which technology continues to offer us. But humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction. It becomes difficult to pause and recover depth in life.”


“We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment.”


“It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations. The risks involved are not always due to the techniques used, but rather to their improper or excessive application.”


“Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense. More specifically, it calls for greater attention to local cultures when studying environmental problems, favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical language and the language of the people. Culture is more than what we have inherited from the past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic and participatory present reality, which cannot be excluded as we rethink the relationship between human beings and the environment.”


“Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community.”


“Merely technical solutions run the risk of addressing symptoms and not the more serious underlying problems. There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture. Nor can the notion of the quality of life be imposed from without, for quality of life must be understood within the world of symbols and customs proper to each human group.”


“Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources, but in a way which respects their concrete situations, since ‘the compatibility of [infrastructures] with the context for which they have been designed is not always adequately assessed’.”


“This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the quality of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account, and that, when significant new information comes to light, a reassessment should be made, with the involvement of all interested parties. The outcome may be a decision not to proceed with a given project, to modify it or to consider alternative proposals.”


“Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals.”


“By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone has not learned to stop and admire something beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or she treats everything as an object to be used and abused without scruple. If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour. Our efforts at education will be inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance, with the help of the media and the highly effective workings of the market.”

La Traviata: Turning Old Pop Culture Into New Pop Culture to Fight Stigma

Pic of the day - Detroit Opera House

Only old fogies go to the opera, right? And young guys trying to impress a girl with how intelligent and posh they are. Right? And why? Because it’s booooooring, and not relevant, unless you study music. Or history. Or music history. Or the Looney Tunes. Right?

Well, do I have news for you. The Metropolitan Opera has gone international with their Live in HD series show in movie theaters, and they are including famous Tony award winning directors and Broadway actors in some of the shows. Professional opera has been trying to recruit a new audience through reaching out into new spaces, and re-interpreting shows in modern scenarios, like the Las Vega “Rat Pack” version of Rigoletto or the 50s diner version of Cosi Fan Tutti, or even the Star Trek version of “Abduction from the Seraglio.” I know of classic operas with new translations of the libretto, but they keep the same plotline and story. Of course, there are also new operas, new approaches to what is an opera, rock operas, heavy metal operas and even a country-western-horror mashup opera.

As far as I know, no one has, however, taken this as far as the Arbor Opera Theater did last week with their new interpretation of La Traviata.

La Traviata

La Traviata. Postcard image courtesy of NNDC.

“Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, June 11-14, 2015. La Traviata, a new English adaptation created with the National Network of Depression Centers to address the stigma surrounding mental illness.”

Ah, now it makes sense. I bet some of you were wondering why on earth I was talking about opera, when I usually talk about healthcare and/or technology. This is why. (Well, except, I do love opera, in case you haven’t guessed.) The best operas have traditionally taken on difficult and edgy topics, challenged assumptions and cultural norms, poked ridicule at the establishment, and generally done what popular culture does best: Explore, question, and hopefully transform the present. La Traviata, when it was first written, told the story of bias against women of “ill-repute,” a.k.a. courtesans or prostitutes. The rumor is that Verdi had his own personal reasons ( special friend, perhaps) for suggesting that people should be a bit more tolerant, and trying to foster a sense of compassion to counter the stigma. This brought us La Traviata, and generations of viewers who weep at the end as the “courtesan with a heart of gold” fails to survive largely due to the classic public health indicators of low socioeconomic status and lack of access to healthcare. Stigma of all sorts is a contributing public health issue, with over twelve THOUSAND articles on the topic in MEDLINE. Almost half of those relate directly to mental health or mental illness, and the rest mostly connect tangentially, through sexual preference, victim status or survivorship, gender identity, and disease diagnosis status (HIV, cancer, leprosy, and more).

This new and revised vision of La Traviata kept the wonderful music, the names of some of the characters, and the stigma, but changed the plot and storyline and the source of the stigma. The star of the new La Traviata remains Violetta, but now Violetta suffers from mental illness. Violetta is a beautiful young woman, self-medicating in a struggle to manage her symptoms, without her friends realizing that it is an illness and could be treated. As with so many in real life who struggle to alleviate their own misery without understanding the root cause, her strategies for self-medication complicate the challenges instead of helping. Those familiar with the story of La Traviata know to expect a death scene at the end, but our Violetta dies not of tuberculosis and poverty, but misunderstanding and a drug overdose.

La Traviata Death Scene

La Traviata Death Scene, photo courtesy of Amanda Sullivan

When I first heard about this production, the vision of interpreting the story around depression and bipolar and stigma, actually partnering with the National Network of Depression Centers, I could not have been more excited. I was thrilled with the concept, and could only wait to see the show because there were no previews online! Not everyone felt the way I did. At the performance, I overheard people expressing some reluctance. Would it be the show that they loved already? How could this work? Did it really make sense to make this big of a change? At the first intermission, some were still hesitant, but by the final intermission the staunchest resistance near me had converted to, “I’m surprised! This really works!”

It did, and does succeed as a story. Arbor Opera Theater is not the Lyric or the Met. We don’t have the star performers, the grand sets, the enormous stage. Despite that, I found myself lost in the story and music. The New Orleans setting was a perfect choice for the context of the story. The sex scenes were dynamic enough to make me feel like a voyeur. Several audience members commented on the strong performance by Augustin (Drake Dantzler) as Violetta’s youthful true love. The arguments with her lover’s father, Senator Germont (Evan Brummel, who acts brilliantly as well as beautifully sculpting language with the musical notes), successfully portrayed him with rich subtlety as a villain operating from the best of intentions. People near me said, “I could have done the same thing,” and “I know parents like that.” His repentance at the end, in the dream sequence, made me wish it was not a dream. When the final scene approached, my reaction was, “Oh, no! She’s so tiny, she doesn’t have the body mass to offset the meds!” I had willingly suspended disbelief, and bought into the performance. A part of me believed that Violetta (Kacey Cardin) was the tiny, sexy, blonde woman with the big voice, tough and fragile at the same time.

La Traviata - Full Cast

La Traviata, Cast, photo courtesy of Amanda Sullivan

The actual singing soared, and for the most part the libretto succeeded in both revealing the story and supporting the singers. There were a few rough spots in the libretto that didn’t quite lay well for the voices and which were jarring to the audience, disrupting the flow of the story. Perhaps a bit of polish, a touch more lyricism, and a bit of rhyme and poetry would address that? Portions of the libretto seemed appropriate for the story, but inappropriate for the character actually singing them. I’d want to touch base with a greater variety of audience members to test out how it worked. That there were moments where the language was a distraction from the story was made evident in audience comments in the hallway. “What does that word even mean?” “Did she have to use that kind of language?” Perhaps that was just the older portion of the crowd? I’m not sure. Perhaps I’m just nitpicking.

Ultimately, I came away wishing strongly to see this performed over and over again, in many interpretations, in many theaters. I want to see this performed by the Met Opera in their Live in HD series. I want to take the train to Chicago to see it at the Lyric. I am deeply grateful to have overheard one of the cameramen at the Saturday performance say that there were plans for this La Traviata to be broadcast on Detroit Public Television in the future. I hope desperately that this means it will also be viewable online, because I want to go out to all my online healthcare communities and get people to watch it, or at least watch excerpts and highlights. I want to spread the word, and engage a much broader audience around this issue, stigma, and this story.

I also found myself asking, why don’t we do this for other important health care and social advocacy stories? Can we take what Shawn McDonald has done with La Traviata as a model to explore contemporary issues? Take classic operas, plays, perhaps Shakespeare, and more. Make them modern and relevant to a contemporary audience, give them new life, and at the same time support the important causes and issues of our day, the challenges and heartaches that shape our society. It would be a far lesser shift to perhaps have Violetta dying of cancer. Could King Lear be rewritten to explore workplace social dynamics, and the need for positive organizational dynamics? What about a new work taking David Copperfield and setting it in India or China? Could Ophelia in Hamlet be recovering from the trauma of clitoridectomy? Rewrite Figaro as casting couch dynamics in Hollywood. Would it be possible to mashup Handel’s Orlando with Virginia Woolf’s surreal Orlando to explore transgendered life? In Rigoletto, instead of being a hunchback, could Triboulet be a person with facial difference? Take L’Elisir d’Amore and rewrite it as a vaccine story. The possibilities are endless.

After the exhilaration and emotional roller coaster of watching the AOT La Traviata Saturday night, I came home and walked the dog. It was dark. The streets were empty. There was a hollowness in the silence that seemed to echo louder because of where I’d been so recently. It felt … appropriate. Let Violetta’s death, the real Violettas of our world, have meaning. Let us move from these hollow spaces to open spaces that show stigma for what it really is.

After a sad opera

Update June 18, 2015: Corrected the name of AOT from Ann Arbor Opera Theater to Arbor Opera Theater. Corrected attribution of images from NNDC to Amanda Sullivan.

HOLD THE PRESSES!!! Wave the Flag! Susannah’s Coming!

Pic of the day - Flag in Dawn's Early Light

I could not have been more delighted when late yesterday I saw a post on Gilles Frydman’s Facebook stream to the effect that Susannah Fox is the new CTO of HHS (meaning: Chief Technical Officer of the United States Department of Health and Human Services). Gilles was sharing Susannah’s post on the HHS Idea Lab Blog (worth following, if you don’t already).

Susannah Fox: I’m the New CTO of HHS: Susannah Fox Named HHS CTO:

FedScoop: “Susannah Fox, an expert on the intersection of technology and medicine, takes over for former Chief Technology Officer Bryan Sivak.”

In that post Susannah talks about her work with the Pew Research Foundation, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and much more. She talked about how very much she was enjoying being exactly who she is and where she was. And then, something magical happened, something magical for all of us: the HHS recruited her, went after her, and convinced her to take the CTO job. This is magical because Susannah is not just intelligent, expert, influential, and well connected. Susannah has heart. She is kind to strangers. [See Regina’s post on Susuannah’s Walking Gallery jacket: “That was my idea of Susannah Fox. I did not know her name. I did not know her job. I only knew that she was kind and was a good mother.“]

Susannah is gracious, polite, honest, and real. Susannah has family and friends, people she cares about with real day-to-day health struggles. Susannah is a person, a REAL person. She is fiercely, heart-wrenchingly protective of her kids. She thinks her hair looks funny, and she fusses to get it just so. I think she’s gorgeous, of course, and she rolled her eyes and laughed when I said her hair was lovely. She has hobbies and interests beyond the job. She has a passion for helping others, because she really CARES, and for helping others in the right way, with information and evidence and data and tools. She doesn’t help just the anonymous strangers because it looks good. She doesn’t just help the people she loves because she loves them. She is kind and helpful everywhere she goes, because that’s who she is. But she does it smart. She knows limits, and she knows that limits can be stretched when we collaborate. She knows tough choices. She knows the problems of the world can’t be forced into coming out the way we wish they would.

Susannah and I have talked over social media, email, various ways for years, and I was lucky enough to meet her in person last fall.

See? That’s me, all the way down at the end of the line. Alicia Staley is in front, Susannah is next, and Pat Mastors right before me. It was great fun, and they were all so kind. I, and so MANY others are excited, because we see hope for real, meaningful, significant change in American healthcare policy and leadership. Here are a few selected comments from public Facebook and Twitter about this (with many MANY more that weren’t public, so I didn’t share them here).

Gilles Frydman: “Today is simply a really great day for real, meaningful patient empowerment!”

Me: “Huzzah! Hurray! Whoohoo! Susannah Fox is the new head honcho of all things tech at HHS! WHOOOOO!”

e-Patient Dave DeBronkart: “This wins my prize as the biggest government-based Mazel Tov in the history of the e-patient movement! Bringing heart and soul to health IT??? From someone who knows how people ACTUALLY use the internet?? How great is this??”

Tim O’Reilly: “Awesome news from @SusannahFox She is the new CTO of HHS. Big win for all of us!!”

Hugh Campos: “Today is a great day for the ‪#‎epatient‬ movement: Susannah Fox has announced that she’s accepted the job of CTO of HHS. Absolutely thrilling news!”

Brian Ahier: “I am so pleased that +Susannah Fox is now the CTO at HHS! Not only is she the first woman to hold this post, but she is one of the strongest advocates on behalf of patients, an incredible thought leader in the realm of health data (a true health data geek :-), but she is a genuinely wonderful person who will bring a whole new viewpoint to this role.”

Nedra Weinreich: ” A perfect role for a woman who combines tech savvy with human compassion. Congrats, Susannah!”

Meredith Gould: “SuperMongoHuge Congrats to @SusannahFox on becoming new CTO of HHS Brava!”

Kathleen Comali Dillon: “Great news for us all- Susannah Fox is a pioneer in healthcare and waaaaay ahead of the curve.”

Casey Quinlan: “Susannah Fox is now Head Geek at HHS. I’m ‘sploding with joy”

Regina Holliday: “And the whole world clapped!!!”

Annaliz Hannan: “Sometimes the government gets it right and we, the collective healthcare consumer, win. This is our day as Susannah Fox accepts the post as Chief Technology Officer of Health and Human Services. There is no doubt she is tech savvy but it is her trusted voice in advocating for your access to your health data that makes this a banner raising day.”

Craig DeLarge: “Sweeet! Good on you! Good on us!”

Alexander B. Howard: “This is exceptionally good news for the American people.”

Joe Graedon: “Pretty amazing. Some days the good guys win! Hallelujah. Susannah earned this through vision, hard work and attention to detail. Hooray.”

Marianne O’Hare: “She’s a powerhouse! But also has that wonderful skill of making data-speak sound like a bedtime story.”

Christopher Snider: “Big news. Big deal. Congrats Susannah!”

Matthew Holt: “The lunatics have taken over the asylum in a great way today. @SusannahFox is now CTO of HHS”

Nick van Terheyden: “How cool is that – Susannah Fox appointed as CTO for HHS”

Jose Gomez-Marquez: “Congratulations! We couldn’t be more happy for @SusannahFox as the new CTO of @HHSGov and friend to geeks around :)”

I just wanted people to get to know her, a little. This is not just another by-the-book administrative appointment. This is special. Susannah is special.

At the Movies: Emerging Technologies for the New Year!

This is my last official work day of the year, which makes me think it is a ripe time to do a post looking over trends in emerging technologies. Maybe even a few posts. For starters, here is a roundup of videos from the past year that are looking at emerging technologies. Well, and you should always keep your eye on the Stanford Medicine X and TEDMED channels. FORAtv is another I like to track, although less medically oriented. This selection and more are available in my Emerging Technologies playlist.

The State of Technology in 2015
This video is by far the most Christmas-y of the collection, including Santa, the North Pole Workshop, and more. Watch for these emerging technologies. Did I miss any?
– ubiquitous satellite phones
– autolocation via GPS for crisis response
– independent robotic drones make deliveries
– Google Glass
– driverless cars
– 3d printing
– bioprinting
– auto-translation apps

Technology in Education: A Future Classroom
[From the 2014 White House Student Film Festival]
– greater variety of displays
– interactivity of surfaces
– portability
– interactive holographic displays for multiple viewers
– smart glass
– data & virtual object sharing for collaboration
– tutorials that track activities
– learning analytics
– gamification
– badges

Top 10 future technologies coming in 2015 (links)
– resonance (wireless) chargers
– 3d printing
– Windows 9
– iPhone 6, Sapphire screen (unscratchable & unbreakable)
– flexible tablets
– virtual reality headsets
– artificial self-regulating heart
– 1 terabyte archival disks (“CD”s / BlueRay)
– driverless cars
– Google’s Project Ara (modular personalized mobile/smartphone device design)

SIGGRAPH 2014 : Emerging Technologies Preview Trailer
– Pixie Dust (acoustic levitation of small objects)
– cascaded displays (spatiotemporal superresolution using offset pixel layers)
– Traxion (tactile interaction device with virtual force sensation)
– physical rendering with a digital airbrush
– HaptoMirage (interaction with 3D virtual environment without need of special glasses)
– MaD (mapping by demonstration, sonification of gestures to provide feedback, possible accessibility applications)
Cyberith Virtualizer
Birdly (see also Flying the Birdly Virtual Reality Simulator)

Welcome To The Future ( Samsung ) HD
Just about displays, only the future of display technology, and how this will impact on our interactions with information and data in daily life.
– Flexible & sensor integrated displays
– Wall display
– Foldable display
– Bended display
– Automotive window display
– Blackboard display
– Unbreakable display
– Edu-desk display
– Transparent elevator display
– 3-foldable display
– Wearable display
– Smart window
– Table display
– Transparent large-format display
– Interactive floor display

World Economic Forum names top 10 emerging technologies of 2014
– Body-adapted wearable electronics
– Nanostructured carbon composites
– Mining metals from desalination brine
– Grid-scale electricity storage
– Nanowire lithium-ion batteries
– Screenless display
– Human microbiome therapeutics
– RNA-based therapeutics
– Quantified self
– Brain-computer interfaces (BCI)
Most interesting observation from the video: “need for regulatory frameworks & strategic alliances among innovators and market leaders.” The report is available as a PDF.

Hybrid Librarian: Future’s 10 Mind-Blowing Technologies About to Emerge
– super smart assistants (intelligent assistants, AI, like Siri, Cortana, Google Now, Watson, Cyc)
– hypersonic trains
– wearable computers
– advanced 3D printing
– lab-grown organs
– super immersive gaming
– bionic arms
– driverless cars
– holographic technology
– eternal life

Make It Wearable (playlist) | Episode 2: Human Health
– trackers
– behavior modification
– big data
– patient-clincian relationship change
– injury identification
– rehabilitation
– prompts
– answer new questions
– data ownership
– research in the actual environment where behavior occurs
– “everyone can say, ‘this is my question. this is my data.'”

Who Is Making Health Here? #makehealth

Reposted from Health Design By Us: Who is Making Health Here? #makehealth; Find out about the health-makers you’ll meet on Saturday!

We Make Health Fest (University of Michigan)

When we started planning this, more than once Joyce told me, “Hey, I’ll be happy if five people show up.” Well, we did a lot of talking, had a lot of meetings, asked people to spread the word, and … the resulting response has been beyond our WILDEST dreams! Since this is our first time, we wanted to keep this as open as possible, and create as many opportunities for people to be involved as we could. Exhibitors are timesharing booths and tables. Speakers are doing mostly pecha kucha style 5-minute presentations. We didn’t want to say “no” to anyone! So if you say you’re a maker and wanted to be involved, we did our darnedest to try to fit you in somewhere. So who all will you find if you come? Here’s how you find out.

On our website:

Direct link to the full speaker and exhibitor schedule as a downloadable PDF:

We also are in the process of adding the schedule into Lanyrd.

Lanyrd: We Make Health Fest: Schedule

Lanyrd has an app, if you want to use it during the event.

Lanyrd apps: Android | iPhone | Mobile Web | Open Web

Or you can simply read on!


10:30am Joyce Lee / Welcome
10:35am Jose Gomez-Marquez / Keynote
11:05am John Costik / Keynote: Hacking Diabetes
11:35am Andrew Maynard / Color My Poop Beautiful, and Other Tales of Tech Derring Do
11:55 Makers the Movie
1:05pm Matt Christensen / Linnetic: A Better Way to Monitor Asthma
1:10pm Nanci and Eilah Nanney / GREAT Gluten-Free Kitchens!
1:15pm Marc Stephens / Tech-Savvy Fitness
1:25pm Jane Berliss-Vincent / The iPad as Resuscitation Device: Notes on Assistive Tech in the Hospital Environment
1:35pm Linda Diane Feldt / There is a Free Lunch: Wildcrafting and Foraging for Food and Medicine
1:45pm Kris Kullgren / Mott Kids4Kids: Utilizing Peer Education Videos at Bedside and Beyond
1:55pm Amer Abughaida / A Manual Stair-Climbing Wheelchair
2:00pm Duane Mackey / Open Source Mosquito Trap
2:05pm Brandon McNaughton / Kitchen-Table Diagnostics with Glass Microbubbles
2:10pm James Rampton / Learning Health System – Consumer Application
2:20pm Irene Knokh / Free Educational Resources: MERLOT and beyond!
2:25pm Mike Lee / Demonstration of World Possible’s Remote Areas Community Hotspots for Education and Learning (RACHEL) Project
2:35pm Sandy Merkel / The Poke Program
2:45pm Harpreet Singh / Communication Box: Flip the Health Care Culture by T.R.U.M.P. Technique
2:55pm Michael Flynn / Fostering a sense of community in hospital lobbies with interactive public art
3:00pm Gary Olthoff / EZCarryBed Mattress Carrier Handle
3:05pm George Albercook / DIY Hearing Aids – A Model MakeHealth
3:15pm Pete Wendel / Games and User Interface Design: Thinking Differently to Affect Elderly Quality of Life
3:25pm Lia Min / In My Spectrum: A Comic about Autism Desktop
3:35pm Shawn O’Grady / 3D Printing and Rapid Prototyping
3:40pm George Albercook / Makers Answer the Call
3:45pm AJ Montpetit / Disrupting Health Care
3:55pm PF Anderson / Personalized Genomics and Closing Remarks


10am – 12pm A Free Generator of Health Risk Graphics
Linnetic: A Better Way to Monitor Asthma
Type 1 Diabetes

10am – 1pm
Building Capacity for the Ann Arbor Sharing Economy
National Foundation for Celiac Awareness — GREAT Kitchens!
We Make Health Stories

10am – 2pm
Cardboard Challenge: #makehealth
Kitchen-Table Diagnostics with Glass Microbubbles

10am – 3pm
The Poke Program

11am – 12pm
Free Educational Resources: MERLOT and Beyond

12pm – 2pm
A Manual Stair-Climbing Wheelchair
Demonstration of World Possible’s Remote Areas Community Hotspots for Education and Learning (RACHEL) Project
Hacking Diabetes
Learning Health System – Consumer Application

1pm – 4pm
Michigan Engineered for All Libes (M-HEAL)

2pm – 4pm
Open Source Mosquito Trap

Ideas for Making Health! [#makehealth]

#NationOfMakers #MakeHealth

Remember I said the idea of the UM We Make Health Fest began with hearing about the White House’s first ever Maker Faire? Well, that is TODAY!!!! The map above shows some of the activity nationwide with people being part of a Nation of Makers. Remember I said, “You have to talk about health. There is SO MUCH going on with bringing the Maker Movement to health!” Then our team went off and brainstormed. Here is a list of the ideas we came up with, almost all of them in the first week of brainstorming.

3D printing
Coding – PHP
DataViz for PDM
Design Thinking
Big data for relationships?
DIY Apps
DIY Biology
DIY Clinical Trials
DIY Devices
DIY Ergonomics
DIY Genomics
DIY Laboratory
DIY Medicine
DIY Neuroscience
Gaming for Health
Hackerspace & Hackathon
Healthy eating: vegan
Home hydroponics
Individualized Medicine
Mobile Technology
N=1 Studies
Open Source/Open Access
Participatory Medicine
Personal Genomics
Personalized Medicine
Precision Medicine
Quantified Self
Quantified Us
Quantified We
Raspberry Pi
Robotics 4 Kids
Solar Cells
Sustainable Design
Sustainable Gardening
Wearable Technology

What do you think? Maker Movement + Health might actually be a real thing, eh? As we continue to plan and prepare our event, we’ll be posting more information about the specific ideas that will actually be at our Make Health Fest. Meanwhile, for today, I’m proud to be one of the many makers, from a family of makers, at a University of Makers, in our Nation of Makers.

“And I said, ‘Yeah, man. Totally!'”: The Obamacare Vloggers

NicePeterToo: I Met the President:

You really should watch the video embedded above. Last week, President Obama invited several of the young folk with exceptionally active Youtube channels to come visit and talk with him about ideas for how to really use Youtube effectively to get out information about the Affordable Care Act. Now, I say “young folk” from my perspective as an admitted old fogie who remembers life before the Internet existed. I mean, really, before punch card programming. OLD fogie!

Anyway, we spend a lot of time in in various online healthcare communities talking about the power of social media for outreach. We all know that Obama works with masters in using social media effectively, and I’ve blogged about that here many times ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5], [6], [7]). Well, he’s done it again!

Last week, President Obama invited a variety of influential Youtube voices to the White House, asking them to help him reach the American youth to enroll in health insurance programs before the March 31st deadline.

Montage: The Obamacare Vloggers

“Attending the meeting were Hannah Hart, creator of the Drunk Kitchen series; Iman Crosson, an Obama impersonator known online as Alphacat; Michael Stephens, the man behind the YouTube channel “VSauce;” Benny and Rafi Fine, creators of the “Kids React” series; Mark Douglas, Todd Womack, and Ben Relles, who introduced the world to Obama Girl six years ago; Peter Shuckoff and Lloyd Ahlquist of “Epic Rap Battles of History” and Tyler Oakley, an LGBT rights advocate with millions of online fans.”
Obama Enlisted YouTube Personalities For Final Health Care Enrollment Push Last Week: The president asked viral video creators to help boost Obamacare enrollment ahead of the March 31 deadline at a White House summit last week.

Another brilliant use of social media. My kid regularly watches about half of these, which means so do I (and, as an aside, you REALLY might enjoy the new “Kids React to Rotary Phones” which made me ROFL. Really. And made my kid ask me if I know what a rotary phone is. Really). That’s what the introductory video is for this post — famous vlogger NicePeter introducing the topic of why and how he met the President, in real people language, and promising more to come. I can’t wait to see what he says, and the other vloggers! Nice Peter looks to be the first of the group to get a video out, but some of them have added this link to existing videos.

Tell a Friend: Get Covered
Tell a Friend: Get Covered:

Now, WHY Obama is doing this is the million dollar question. Literally. Well, at least that much, probably a lot more. You see, the logic behind pretty much all health insurance plans is that you have LOT of people in the plan, of all ages and all types of health, and then the need for resources will average out over the groups. So to make this work, you need young folk and old, healthy and not-so-healthy. If that doesn’t happen, well, the whole system breaks down, or costs everyone more money than was expected. The way my budget works, those two things amount to pretty much the same problem.

“He needs them to buy health insurance, and, in some cases, spend hundreds of dollars a month for it. If they don’t, the new insurance marketplaces — the absolute core of Obamacare — will be filled with older, sicker people, and premiums will skyrocket. And if that happens, the law will fail.” Obama’s last campaign: Inside the White House plan to sell Obamacare:

You’ve probably already figured out that there must be a problem getting young folk to register for Obamacare. Well, it’s true. Sort of. There is a genuine need for more young folk to enroll, but the data about what’s going on is both worrisome and hopeful. Look at the title of this piece.

Bruce Japsen. Less Than A Third Of Enrollees In Obamacare Under Age 34. Forbes 1/13/2014 @ 5:23PM.

That is based on enrollment data from the government, and if you read the article, it’s actually fairly positive about youth liking Obamacare and just waiting to enroll because, you know, they’re young, and that’s ‘how they roll.’ Here’s last quarter’s enrollment data.

Figure 2: Trends in the Number of Youth Who Have Selected an Obamacare Plan

During December, there was a more than 8-fold increase in the number of young adults (ages 18-34) who have selected a Marketplace plan through the FFM.

ASPE: Health Insurance Marketplace: January Enrollment Report: For the period: October 1, 2013 – December 28, 2013:

The next logical question might be, well, why is he doing this so late? Didn’t the Obama team think of reaching out to youth before it got so late? Actually, they’ve been reaching out for quite a while. I’ll post several examples below. The gist of this late push is that even though the numbers are rising, and the expectation was that youth would probably register late, there have been some unfortunate snafus (such as the web page being down on the day of the biggest push for youth enrollment) and that the expected lateness makes for a bit of nervousness and a desire to ensure that the idea of “registering late” doesn’t end up meaning, “Oops! I forgot!” After all, there are consequences to forgetting, both for the youth as individuals and for the good of the entire program.


Obama pitches Affordable Care Act to youth at White House Published on Dec 4, 2013

Obamacare: What if not enough young, healthy people enroll? (+video)
The 18-to-34-year-old cohort is the most coveted for the exchanges, and should be about one-third of enrollees, though there are backstops if enrollment falls short.
By Linda Feldmann, Staff writer / December 5, 2013

Evan McMorris-Santoro. Youth Obamacare Enrollment Groups Surprised To Learn Obamacare Website Won’t Work On National Youth Enrollment Day: “Obviously, it’s unfortunate,” says one youth enrollment leader. The Obama administration is giving applicants who save applications on Feb. 15 extra time to work around downtime on the site. Buzzfeed posted on February 12, 2014 at 3:13pm EST.

David Morgan. Obamacare enrollment push for the young enters 11th hour. Reuters Fri Feb 14, 2014 1:02am EST

Adam Aigner-Treworgy and Jim Acosta. Obamacare enrollment hits 4 million, push underway to hit revised goal. CNN February 25th, 2014 08:48 PM ET, Updated 8:48 p.m. ET, 2/25/2014.

Get Covered (with NBA Star Kevin Johnson)