Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s comments on health/medicine in a recent wide-ranging interview by Charlie Rose have not gotten much attention, so I’m excerpting them here. First, Schmidt discusses Google Flu Trends:
[For clarity I’ve mixed a few words from Rose’s questions with Schmidt’s comments]
There are many [positive] things that we can do with the corpus of information that’s being gathered … The most interesting thing we’ve recently done is called flu trends. We looked at … trends in terms of worldwide flu … There’s a lot of evidence, concern about a pandemic … that might occur, similar to the 1918 bird flu epidemic that killed … 50 million … a proportionately huge number if it were today. And because people, when they have a problem, search for something, we can detect uncommon searches as a blip. We can note that. In our case, we built a system which took anonymized searches so you couldn’t figure out exactly who it was, and that’s important. And we get six months ahead of the other reporting mechanisms so we could identify the outbreak. Many people believe that this device can save 10, 20, 30,000 lives every year just because the healthcare providers could get earlier and contain the outbreak. It’s an example of collective intelligence of which will are [sic] many, many more.
Later in the interview, Schmidt talks about what he calls a “public corpus of medical information”:
The Wikipedia model has been so successful. Why don’t we have all the smartest doctors organize a corpus, a public corpus of medical information … that combines everything everybody knows about medical practice in one place, a place where you can — again, this would have to be a public database where you keep pouring more experiential data, and then you can build computer systems … [Rose: So you have all your cases, everything you ever knew] Schmidt: Again, anonymized so it’s appropriately legal and all of that, and get it in one place so that people can begin to mine the data. They can actually begin to figure out what the disease trends are. What are the real health trends? And this is not a knock on the existing providers to do it. They just don’t have the scale. We are strong when we have thousands of people working in parallel to solve a really important problem. I would tell you, by the way, that if you look at the problems that society has hit over the last thousand years, start with the plague, right all of the things that really hit us that nearly destroyed society, we overcame them through technology and innovation. People figured out new ways whether it was in medicine or governance to overcome them. So let’s be positive about it. We can work those issues. There’s always a way to handle the objections if it’s important.