Vol. LXIII, No. 28
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerces monthly meeting held last Thursday featured a talk by Esther Dyson, a woman of many titles, including philanthropist, journalist, investor, entrepreneur, trained astronaut, and commenter on emerging digital technology.
A graduate of Princeton High Schools class of 1968 and daughter of the Institute for Advanced Studys Freeman Dyson, Ms. Dyson participated in the sale of Flickr to Yahoo! and has invested in Del.icio.us, BrightMail, and Orbitz. She now primarily invests in start-up companies, and sits on the boards of 24 organizations.
Just back from Moscow, where she was on a panel with President Barack Obama, Ms. Dyson recounted some highlights of the past two weeks.
Before leaving the U.S., Ms. Dyson had participated on a healthcare panel at the Personal Democracy Forum, focusing on questions of how the internet could change healthcare, and what people are doing from the grassroots upward to foster that change.
The next day, the CIO [Chief Information Officer] of the United States, Vivek Kundera, announced the website data.gov, which, Ms. Dyson reported, would release data generated by the Executive Branch to the public. Then I went to Moscow, where the notion of the government publishing anything online is still a fantasy.
While she described the overall Russian reception of President Obama as lukewarm, the panel in which both the President and Ms. Dyson addressed a group of Russian community organizers seemed quite magical.
In the question-and-answer session that followed Ms. Dysons report, Chamber of Commerce members asked questions on subjects ranging from healthcare to Iran.
As an advocate of people having the right to their own healthcare data in order to make informed decisions and lead healthier lives, Ms. Dyson explained that information liquidity would give individuals the ability to manage themselves, by seeing their diagnoses, and how cholesterol and blood pressure numbers have changed over time, for instance.
Imagine trying to lose weight without a scale, she said, suggesting that access to ones own health data would provide the information necessary to encourage people to become healthier. Of course, it threatens the power of the medical priesthood, she added.
As a board member of 23andMe, a genome sequencing project, Ms. Dyson suggested that while finding out ones genome may be a little narcissistic, I can also understand my chances of getting a heritable disease. She cited the example of Type I diabetes, which is 75 to 80 percent heritable, meaning that not much can be done to prevent it, versus Type II diabetes, which is 25 percent heritable, and so theres a lot you can do to change your chances of getting it.
Ms. Dyson likened the idea of organizing ones own data to what Quicken did for personal financial management. The same thing is going to happen in healthcare, so that patients can aggregate their own information, and decide which institutions can have access to it.
Regarding the healthcare system in the U.S., Ms. Dyson said that more transparency was needed to make the flow of monies clearer, and to have a better understanding of costs and predicted outcomes.
On the subject of food becoming more processed and losing its nutritional value, Ms. Dyson admitted that it may be a long, slow shift back to eating healthy, nutrient-rich foods, but that if you look at whats happened to smoking, you see you can shift what is fashionable and popular.
Responding to a question about the current state of Iran, Ms. Dyson acknowledged that the role of technology has been useful in allowing the world a glimpse into the turmoil, and that its been important within Iran to know that the world is with them, and to know how large their own numbers are. She hoped that the shareholders and boards of various multinational companies involved with trade in Iran were asking how their products are used, saying I would not want to sell stuff to the Iranian government.
As for general advice, Ms. Dyson said she hadnt been able to deliver a certain punchline in Moscow, and was happy to have the chance to present it at the meeting: If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.
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