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Episode Summary

Will 2015 be a breakout year for digital health testing? It's still a little early to tell, but the news this week was good for advocates of mHealth and personalized medicine.

23andMe received FDA approval to provide screening for Bloom Syndrome, a rare gene disorder indicative of a predisposition to develop cancer. At Columbia University, research engineers developed an inexpensive HIV test that can be conducted using a smartphone. And, "tricorder" mHealth darling Scanadu entered the testing phase for its Scanaflo iPhone-ready urinalysis strip.

In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss these latest achievements in digital health diagnostics and explore the future of mHealth.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the smart phone as health intermediary:
This idea of the smart phone as the intermediary between you and the health system, or as kind of this tool that could help the health system scale in more robust fashion, I didn’t really buy into that argument before. Because a lot of the mHealth solutions that I’ve seen, while interesting, just didn’t have that completeness I guess. With all these diagnostic tools becoming available at such an inexpensive price point, I can kind of see now the potential there for the smart phone or the mobile device to really be a center for managing health in a way that — when you just say digital health, I don’t know if it really captures that — but it’s almost like all of these test and dongles and urinalysis strips that sort of plug into the phone like it made for me a lot more real that possibility. I think that’s what I’m reacting to in part and then of course just the maybe we can call it the shiny new object syndrome, but it’s got me really excited about the space in general.

Dirk on the unintended consequences of making your genome open source:
The problem is unintended consequences, right? We live in the United States. We will live very comfortably and safely so it seems yeah, open source your genome, why not? What could possibly happen? I mean history has shown us that when one group can get its foot on the throat of another group it will. The question is how far have we evolved? If we remove ourself from this wealthy, stable culture, will things still be safe? Will we still have the same sort of protections and civilization and rationality that most of us enjoy? If history is a guide, you know there’s a pretty decent indication that we won’t. Once you’ve open sourced your genome and it’s out there, I think it’s really no problem in the world we live in today, but in 150 years, what impact might that have on your descendants given changes in the world? It’s just such an unknown.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life we discuss recent news in emerging technology. Big fashion houses and experimental designers alike are flocking to smart clothing as the latest expression of wearable technology. Sensors combined with online connectivity, are enabling information flow directly from our clothing — whether it's measuring heart rate for sport, flexibility for rehabilitation, or Tweets for fun. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has proposed new regulations for commercial drone flights. And Apple might be taking on Tesla and General Motors by venturing into one of the most complex product areas: the electric car. Join us as we dig into these topics from a UX and design perspective.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on integrated technology in smart clothing:
How much nicer would it be if some of that functionality is just integrated into the fabric of your clothing and it’s no longer such a separate object but is really part of your style, right? For me it would be wonderful if I just had a phone somehow embedded into my shirt or a hat or something and I didn’t have to quite root around in my pocket and pull out the phone and sort of fumble with it. That seems … I mean it would be very nice to get a little voice prompt, “Hey, Dirk is calling,” and I can say, “OK, accept the call,” and just talk to you through my hat or through my shirt. I love this idea of integration.

Dirk on Apple as a potential car company:
It raises really interesting questions about what the biggest most powerful business conglomerates are going to look like in 20 or 30 years. If Google is correct, then the top tech companies, the Google, the Apple, Amazon, companies like that are going to be in the transportation business. I’m not sure yet if that will be the case. I think it’s very possible.

Apple, because they have so much cash, they need to, in trying to keep up with Google, be involved in that business. They need to be paying attention to it, they need to be making investments. They don’t have a choice, because if things fall in a certain way, and if they’re the ones on the outside looking in, it won’t be pretty for them. Now Apple has so much money, they’re in a position where in theory they could pass on it and things could move forward and they could be left behind and they could just go out and buy General Motors or some major automotive company and close the gap and get back in the game. They have that luxury.

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Episode Summary

Across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles to Boston, there are a variety of new initiatives to develop Smart City services — using sensor technology and the Internet of Things to improve the quality of urban living. Examples of these initiatives range from well-coordinated transportation services using big data to reduce traffic congestion and save commuters time and fuel, to public safety and security services controlling police dispatch, municipal repairs, and even snow removal. In this episode of The Digital Life, we discuss the long-term implications of designing Smart Cities, and the potential pitfalls of such wide-ranging projects, as the digital infrastructure of our urban environment grows.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on Smart Cities and the broader impact on our planet's survival:
I think it's critical that we be able to figure out at least part of that puzzle, because we've got these pressing problems of energy consumption — for instance, cities are giant consumers of electricity, especially with office buildings. They're using lots and lots of power, using lots and lots of resources, water, for instance, sewage system, another example. And for all of these things, better coordination, better use of these resources, is going to be very important for our planet's survival.

Dirk on the potentital bureaucratic pitfalls of Smart Cities:
So you mentioned the expense of the Big Dig, and that was hugely over budget, right? I think by 2 or 3x, right? Not just 10% but some gigantic amount. I may be overstating it, or understating it, I'm not sure, but it's huge. When you're dealing with governments doing these big projects, you have those money issues, but I think more critically, you have time issues. What I mean by that is, luckily for the city of Boston, tunnel technology advances at a glacial pace. If you start a tunnel in 1990-whatever and finish it in 2000-whatever, it's still going to be acceptable. It's still going to be appropriate. If you have some big Smart City project and it takes you a decade to roll it out, the technology is going to have changed 3 or 4 or 5 or more times over over that time. You're already going to be outdated. The typical slow bureaucratic governmental processes of getting things done will almost certainly doom these projects to be these really odd situations, where you have cities that invest in all of this infrastructure and then it's already gone. It's already outdated.

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Episode Summary

The Super Bowl last weekend was a testimony to the integration of technology at the highest level of sporting competition — from the ultra high-definition cameras for broadcast clarity, to the tablet displays for reviewing plays with coaching staff, to the deluge of viewing audience commentary via social media.

In tribute to that exciting finale to the 2014 football season, in this episode of The Digital Life we discuss the training, techniques, and technology for professional football and how the advances the NFL is making toward a complete view of health metrics and performance in real time is inspired by the quantified self movement.

The NFL has taken the lead in quantifying their athletes play, including sensor technology in helmets for measuring impact, electronic health records (EHRs) on the sidelines for reviewing player history, and wearables in the uniforms to track position on the field. What does this technology integration mean for the future of health?

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the future of real time health metrics:
It’s that real-time aspect, coupled with … I know the NFL has procured electronic health records that can be used by the trainers on the sideline, so mapping some of those real-time aspects to the history of health of that player. I think there’s fantastic potential there, not just for these guys who are professionals at the top of their industry, but also as this technology progresses and becomes more affordable and available, giving ourselves that missing user’s manual for our own bodies. I think that’s maybe the promise that the quantified self has. Now, to be clear, as you pointed out as well, we’re a long way from that, but I think that, as people, we’re not very in touch with what’s going on inside us as a human machine. I know that, even with all this involvement in the health industry, I know I’m guilty of not really understanding how my body works as well as I should. I see in that real-time analysis and mapping to the historic record some potential for advancing our own understanding of our bodies in the future.

Dirk on social change and health:
What you’re talking about there starts to talk on social change that really needs to happen. Most of us are not tied in to how our bodies are working and our health in the way that we should be, in some objective sense, because of the requirements that the society makes upon us. The needs that we have to pay bills and function in this capitalist 40 hour work week crucible, we spend all of our time or much of our time, certainly not all, we spend much of our time focused on … just focused on rubbish, focused on things that are just holding up something that doesn’t really need to be there. There’s many consequences of that that we can’t see because it’s a negative. We just plod forward, but one of them, and a big one, is we don’t care about our health. From the desk jobs that keep us sitting all the time that demonstrably make our health worse to just not having the time, attention, and sort of the, I’ll call it, psychological bandwidth, to deal with our health.

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Episode Summary

There's been much ado this week about the debut of the Microsoft HoloLens and the renewed promise of augmented reality. The vision of a digitally enhanced world, with entertainment, gaming, and work options integrated spatially into our day-to-day existence is powerful stuff. But the disappointing adoption of the first major foray into the space, with Google Glass, has left us skeptical. Will augmented reality via glass or lens be relegated to specialist applications, like health and manufacturing? Or will consumers flock to the product that gets the user experience right? In this episode of The Digital Life, we examine the UX of augmented reality and discuss the promise and potential perils of the Microsoft HoloLens.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on professional applications for the HoloLens:
If you watched the demo video for the HoloLens, there’s — for lack of a better term — a lot of and smoke and mirrors going on. Everything looks like there’s immaculate integration into your day-to-day life. But, of course, they showed the CAD software, and the gestures are immediately recognized and affecting this 3D CAD object. You just know that the experience of manipulating CAD is so intricate to begin with — having some experience designing CAD software ourselves — the gestural interactions needed to achieve that kind of interaction with CAD software is going to be very tricky to pull off. While it looks great in the HoloLens initial promo marketing video, I think there’s going to be a drop-off when it comes to the actual user experience.

Dirk on the augmented and virtual reality products:
If these were things that were brand new or original ideas that could at least be sold as a thought experiments as opposed to a product, I would respect that. But the fact is that the technology that they’re showing here is stuff that we saw in Minority Report 15 years ago — a Hollywood movie that the technology for which was dreamed up and derivated from some of the top scientists and technologists who were tasked with looking in the future and seeing what computing would look like. This is all done before. There’s nothing with Oculus Rift or Microsoft or any of these right now today that are showing us something that we haven’t seen before, in a technology conceptual manner. There’s really no bang on that side. Then, it has to be about being a real product, and it simply isn’t. It’s years, potentially many, away from being a product, and even when it is, it’s more likely to be a niche tool for certain use cases than this thing that’s strapped on your head or however it’s done when they finally get there, all day, for long period of time, in a lot of different contexts.

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Episode Summary

Health is one of just a few universal human needs: From the moment we're born to the moment we die, our health is at the forefront of our lives. Despite this inherent importance, American healthcare remains woefully out of balance.

We spend too much and get too little for our hard-earned dollars. According to a recent Medicare report, healthcare spending is projected to grow 1.1% faster than the rest of the economy during 2013- 2023, with its share of the GDP rising from 17.2% in 2012 to 19.3% in 2023. What else should we expect from a system that first prioritizes the administrative and business aspects, then clinical care, with the patient experience and patient / provider relationship placing a distant third?

The key to re-balancing the US healthcare delivery system and making progress toward reducing future costs, may lie in better understanding not its administration or even clinical care — while these both are important — but rather, the day-to-day needs of its patients. In this episode of The Digital Life, we dig into some of the challenges in designing for the patient experience.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on information overload in healthcare:
This data, which can be so intimidating, is growing even faster that we might like. Whether it’s the data that’s resident in EHRs, at hospitals and doctors’ offices, or data from our activities that we’re getting from these lovely wearables that we all seem to be wearing these days to even data that might be general population health data or, genomic data that is newly introduced into the total healthcare experience. There’s this additional thread of information overload that I think is also a factor as you’re talking about how people are able to process their healthcare experience.

Dirk on the monolithic players in healthcare:
Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s complicated. The patient experience resides inside the rat’s nest that is the health industry, and the health industry is duly yoked by the national government which is a bureaucratic fiasco, and the big insurance industry, which is a blood-sucking soulless leach on the whole deal. Solving for this stuff is really tricky because of these huge monolithic actors that inherently, their motivations are contrary to the patient experience; and that doesn’t even get into the fact that the complexity around what really is best and appropriate for an optimal patient experience isn’t just in of itself an easy thing to solve in the theoretical without those huge barriers.

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Episode Summary

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES),  after a few years flirting with irrelevance, is on the rise again, as the wild technology and gadgets from the 2015 conference captured the imagination of consumers and media pundits alike. A big and important theme of CES 2015 was the Internet of Things, with major companies like Samsung taking IoT strategy for a new connected world. In this episode of the Digital Life we discuss some of the cool tech from CES, like Intel's Curie chip, and how it relates to the IoT, wearables and the future of UX.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the future of the automobile:
I think it also introduces some interesting models that we’re beginning to see abstracted out, the idea of the sharing economy and Uber or Zipcar, where you’re less concerned with what it is you’re driving in and more concerned with the access to it. If the car becomes this "rolling technology", does it matter quite as much? As long as you have access to it, and it’s self-driving, maybe it can just show up on Uber when you need it. Maybe there are a bunch of those rolling around your neighborhood. It’s another way of looking at public transportation, certainly for those folks as well who only need cars in certain instances, but then really need them. We see that right now by having services that’ll pick up folks who don’t have their own cars and take them to doctor’s appointments or what have you. A lot of those things could be managed by software, especially if cars are self-driving.

Dirk on the growth of CES:
It’s interesting how the CES – the Consumer Electronics Show, which is what we’re talking about – how it’s evolved, where 5 years ago, the CES was on the down slope – companies were backing out of it, it was getting a lot less media coverage – because Apple was the big event in January. It’s very interesting how post-Steve Jobs and how as the Internet of Things ramp up, which are much more open and certainly they work on the Apple platform as well, but more in the PC ecosystem. The CES is on the upswing, too, and it’s getting a lot more media coverage than it was 5 years ago. It’s a lot more interesting than it was. It’s part of this whole shift back away from Apple and back to the more traditional ecosystem of computing devices.

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Episode Summary

In this episode of The Digital Life, the first of 2015, we discuss the design of time, and in particular, the rampant busyness of the digital age — what has been described as the time poverty of knowledge workers. It seems like the work of the digital worker is never done. Software helps users complete tasks more efficiently, but there are two sides to that coin. As we get things done, we are expected to do even more things, adding to that eternal sense of busyness. How do we separate work from play, busyness from leisure in the digital age? Join us as we explore that question.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the struggle for time management:
I struggle with this quite a bit, I think because there’s a need in my own personal cycle to be able to recharge, and I actually very much understand your approach, Dirk, in wanting to be doing something. I find actually, that sometimes my best ideas for work come when I’m unplugged and relaxing. To give you an example of that, when I took some time around the holidays I all of a sudden in the middle of whatever, a meal or something, had a bunch of ideas that I wanted to write about. I quickly ran and grabbed a notebook and wrote all those things down, but in a general sense, the intrusiveness of our communication methods, whether they are via your mobile phone or just email on your desktop or any other kinds of communication types that you can engage on now social media, video calling, all of these things, I struggle with drawing lines where those boundaries are preventative and enable me to have that personal space to unwind. While I enjoy the communication and the fast pace of things, I definitely need to not pay attention to my phone or to my email at certain times.

Dirk on the drive for efficiency in tech:
Yeah, I mean it shouldn’t be a surprise. If we go back and look at the industrial revolution and the evolution of that, from the very beginning it was about how can we do this faster? How can we do this more efficiently? How can we do this cheaper? That thinking has driven the last couple of hundred years of history. It certainly is core to technology and the way that digital technologies have evolved. The whole idea of the storage space doubling every year for example. It’s always been about bigger, better, faster, more.

We’ve created this world that is increasingly becoming full of digital technologies and it has trained all of us to be on that cycle of new phone every year, new computer every year and just always expecting more and better and not just like kind of be content with what we’ve got and the way that we’ve got it.

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Episode Summary

As we finish up 2014, it's time for a few predictions for the upcoming year. In this episode of The Digital Life we discuss the near future of drone delivery, the coming conflict in human / robot labor relations, cyborgs in society, genomic products for mass adoption, and the rise and fall mighty tech lifestyle brands like Apple. You don't want to miss our final episode of 2014 as we say "so long" to this year and explore five fascinating tech topics.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on human / robot labor relations:
My first prediction for 2015 is in the realm of robotics, which is very much an increasing technology presence in manufacturing — whether you’re talking about on the assembly line or robots that are more flexible in doing a whole variety of tasks. Amazon has robots that help with selecting things that are going to be packed in the warehouse. I think you’re going to start to see labor disputes. The first major labor dispute around robotic labor I think is going to happen in 2015. There have been hints of this already in some strikes, labor strikes in Asia where the general principles of a company are aligned with replacing humans with robot labor. There hasn’t been a direct, oh, this robot came in and took my job, all the workers are now going to be in solidarity with their other human workers, are now going to strike. I think you’re going to see that in 2015.

Dirk on the future of drone delivery:
The drones are going to be even worse, and there’s going to be less regulation, less oversight. By definition, they don’t have a local pilot. They’re going to be controlled oftentimes … Today, there’s just random citizens flying drones around. The more accepted drones become, the more pervasive they can become. There’s just going to be a lot of these little crashes. It’s not going to be epidemic. If it ever became epidemic, then it would be legislated out of existence, but it’s going to be more. There’s going to be more drone crashes injuring people than there are now single-engine plane crashes injuring people. I don’t know, for me, a lot of it, it feels unnecessary. I don’t know, it feels like something that is just being done for the benefit of the companies but not really thinking about the communities.

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Episode Summary

With the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) movement and consumer software upending the traditional enterprise environment, it's no surprise the enterprise user experience is becoming a hot topic for companies looking for increased productivity and a competitive advantage in their respective industries. But the user expectations generated by consumer software, the myriad of devices, and the intricacies of enterprise requirements, create a complex UX problem set that's not so easy to crack. In this episode of The Digital Life, we explore some of the issues that enterprise UX bring to the fore, consider the future landscape as software "eats the world", and discuss the skills that UX designers will need to tackle these challenges.

Here are a few quotes from this week's discussion.

Jon on the need for UX design for the intermediate user in enterprise:
I think that’s an interesting theme that we’re banging on again and again, which is the idea of this mismatch between the really complex workflows and tasks, and then this idealistic sort of, “Hey. I just want to be able to immediately and intuitively know what this software does, and just be able to touch it and go without first spending a little time to adapt to this tool and to learn about it, and to go my way up the learning curve.”

I think there is definitely going to be a need for some push back to say that with complex software, even if it is a little bit more consumer-friendly on the enterprise side, with complex software, there is always going to be a learning curve, right? There is always going to be a need for the person who understands it and spends a lot of time with it, and learns how to use it in a professional setting, and that is not going to go away. I think that’s the flip side of the design coin there. We want more consumer-friendliness in our enterprise software, but there is always going to be a need for designing for the intermediate user, rather than the simple used case first time one-and-done user, which is very different.

Dirk on the challenge of designing software for the enterprise: 
The challenge for designers and other UX professionals is that, if you have been successful in designing in a consumer context or for something that’s less complex, like designing successfully in the enterprise, it’s almost like a whole different skill set. It’s almost like a whole different art because of the mammoth nature of again, the use cases and the complexity. You can’t go about the things that you’re doing the same way. You can’t look at the scale and type a nature of research the same way, the way that you architect the product and the interaction models that you consider and employ need to be thought of completely differently. So it’s a new frontier.

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