From My Vantage Point

How Distributed Ledger Technology Can Revolutionize Healthcare

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the need for increased innovation into sharper focus, especially in the healthcare field. As the outbreak has spread, so, too, has the realization that things need to be done faster and more efficiently/effectively than before. The result has been advances that bring with them the likelihood of better care and improved outcomes in the short term, and a more efficient system over the long haul.

This would be nothing new, by the way, as history is littered with examples of cataclysm leading to innovation:

  • The Black Death (1331-3153) wiped out over half of the European population but led to the demise of the feudal system, not to mention arcane medical practices based on religion as opposed to science.
  • The Boston Smallpox Epidemic (1721-22) ignited a spirited debate about inoculations which spilled over to print and spawned the first independent newspaper. 
  • The Spanish Flu outbreak (1918-19) opened up more opportunities for women in the workforce.
  • The SARS outbreak (2003) strengthened ecommerce in Asia.

It would not be the least bit surprising, then, if a similar reset occurs now. That seems particularly likely in healthcare technology, especially as it pertains to the sector’s adoption of distributed ledger technology (DLT), the immutable online ledger. Even before the pandemic, it was projected that healthcare spending on DLT would reach $1.4 billion by 2024, part of a larger trend that has seen spending on that technology triple across all sectors since 2017, with the expectation that it will reach $16 billion by 2023.

To date, however, DLT has not made much of a dent in healthcare. Only 11 percent of the executives polled by Business Insider believed that that industry has made noteworthy strides with DLT. That placed healthcare behind financial services (46 percent), manufacturing (12 percent) and energy/utilities (12 percent).

That financial services paced the pack is hardly a shock, given DLT’s long association with cryptocurrencies. Yet it seems likely that precious few industries won’t be touched by DLT in the years to come, and healthcare-wise it can make its greatest impact on electronic medical records (EMRs).

Already widely used, EMRs (often called electronic health records, or EHRs) make it easier for healthcare professionals to store and share patient data, though there are the ever-present security concerns. One in three doctors responding to a Deloitte poll cited such worries as the primary reason they would hesitate to adopt telemedicine platforms.

DLT, while not perfect, can help alleviate these concerns, as any new data entered into the system must be rubber-stamped by the physician and the patient, then undergo vetting against an already existing ledger. Neither party has sole jurisdiction over the information; either one can secure a copy. In short, everyone is assured access, control and security.

DLT shows great promise within the medical field, and if it has not been completely realized during the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems likely to happen at some point in the very near future. History would suggest as much, as innovation has always been humankind’s response to past crises. And certainly healthcare’s need for DLT appears to be obvious.

Expanding the Full Potential of Broadband

As noted in a recent issue of The New Yorker, Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley Counties were already poor, and were set back that much more when fire ravaged a local manufacturing plant in 2005. But a local phone cooperative used stimulus money (not to mention a few mules) to wire every building, giving the area lightning-fast wireless access and attracting Internet-based jobs. With the arrival of the innovation, the local economy was reborn.

This story is a perfect example of how the Internet is vital to the future of society as it has become essential to modern living, similar to how electricity became a staple in the early 1900s. That’s because it facilitates education and economic growth and promotes conversations that fuel and inspire community.

As 5G now comes into play to foster faster transfers of broadband between each interconnected smart device, the telecommunications industry will begin to capitalize on the opportunities that these new broadband technologies have to offer us. Outlooks centered on the progress for the broadband sector predict slow, but hopeful growth. 

The Future of Broadband: 100% Connectivity by 2030

If deployment of broadband remains the same, the United States is on track to achieve 100% connectivity by 2030. Many underserved areas that are not currently wired will prove difficult to service for economic or topographical reasons. To close the digital divide, the public and private sector will need a serious commitment to achieve 100% connectivity through key strategies.

Among these strategies, effective mapping and smart government funding can help the connectivity goal become a reality. By improving mapping, for instance, it could help officials making funding decisions by indicating where those gaps exist. However, technologies like low-Earth orbit satellites can reach difficult-to-wire areas. While they are not yet in operation, it is likely these technologies will continue evolving during the 2020s. 

SpaceX’s Starlink project is one such entity trying to provide faster broadband to the world through their satellite technology. The robust broadband installation in areas that have difficulty with access or where it’s impossible to wire could be a game changer for people, local businesses and the industry, at large.

Further community broadband initiatives will hasten the pace of adoption in low-competition regions. Local municipal broadband initiatives have already installed connectivity in hundreds of communities. Over the next decade, researchers expect that the many laws and regulations which ordinarily roadblock such solutions, will be eliminated due to more engaged citizens who are better acquainted with broadband policy issues, thanks to the upcoming election cycle and the awareness of digital disparity.

Rural Economic Growth in the Next Decade

Similar to the manufacturing plant in Kentucky’s Jackson and Owsley counties, broadband can support further rural economic growth by offering a boost for businesses and residents who are struggling to keep up or have been left behind in the digital economy. The World Bank reports that a 10 percent increase in broadband implementation can deliver a 1.21 percent bump in GDP growth. This means offering broadband to only two million new rural American residents can add $4.8 billion to the United States economy each year.

Broadband is increasingly used in commerce today and expanding services and increasing access and utilization of digital tools and tech resources by small businesses in rural communities will likely stimulate up to $80 billion in revenue. At the same time, it can reduce rural unemployment rates and create new jobs through remote working and online services. Online learning and career training can also help rural workers raise their earning potential by 29 percent as they obtain higher education degrees and vocational skills. 

2020 Broadband Predictions 

Despite previously slow deployment rates across the United States, the past decade was a true period of exponential change and innovation for broadband. In this new decade, key trends and developments in the broadband industry are setting the pace for further growth.

This year alone, broadband will be live in all major U.S. cities. Next generation 5G mobile service is already being used in major U.S. cities like San Francisco and Chicago across all networks. In 2020, carriers in other major cities like New York City are rolling out their 5G strategies and infrastructures as more devices are released that support the baseband. If all goes to plan, despite supply chain and other economic delays caused by the coronavirus, it’s plausible that every major market in the country will have at least one new provider offering commercially-viable 5G services.

While we are currently in an economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the necessity of installing efficient broadband operations with 5G capabilities to both rural and urban communities shows promise to jumpstart the economy. As businesses and hospitals crucially rely on more interconnect devices and communications to support public and private sector stability, progress won’t falter due to the importance and growth of broadband — not only in America, but across the world.

When Implementing New Business Technologies, Proceed with Caution

Cloud computing, increasingly commonplace in business settings nowadays, affords companies the opportunity to optimize their space, reduce operational costs, and store data securely. Implementing cloud-based operations is, however, easier said than done; it requires technical capabilities, employee cooperation, and time. 

As with all innovation, a deliberate approach works best. Top-down communication is critical, so that everybody understands what the goal is, how this new technology is going to be rolled out and what training is involved.

The importance of training cannot be overstated. Training will not only empower employees; it will also cut costs drastically and make them feel secure about their place in the organization. An evaluation of the technical abilities of your team gives a fair idea of whom to train. Most popular cloud platforms offer training packages and entry-level certification packages. Once your employees start getting comfortable with the whole process, a follow-up professional course is recommended.

Having your employees study only generic online courses is not always worthwhile. Transition to the cloud happens effectively when the courses are need-based. Generic courses are best for entry-level studying, which has to be followed up by professional courses that cater to the specific needs of your organization.

Benefits of the Cloud

For starters, access to a company’s data is markedly simplified; it is available at the touch of a button or a keystroke. That saves on the cost of maintaining physical servers to manage the data.

Moreover, there’s the matter of security. The top cloud providers are very adept at protecting your data, though it is best to use those providers in combination with another storage system. The cloud is not impregnable, as shown in the iCloud hack of 2017, but with the proper encryption and dual-authentication protection, a company can protect itself as much as possible.

Other benefits include consistency in data usage and effective management of available resources.

Just Do It

A business might have concerns over introducing a new concept like the cloud into a tried-and-tested setup, but the transition can be made easier if a company’s IT professionals prioritize moving everyday systems, like email and contacts, from the old system to the new one.

That is the foundation of a successful move, as is security; it goes without saying that backup up all data is critical. The other thing that needs to be guarded against is the needless duplication of information. That serves no one well.

Employee productivity increases manifold with the infusion of fresh, new technologies. Migrating to a cloud platform is made easy with a lot of help from your existing workforce. Get a lowdown on which platform to choose, and which package to choose for your needs. This will help make the migration to the cloud easier on your organization.

Are Autonomous Bikes a Good Idea?

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are stalled. The breezy predictions of widespread rollouts by most major automobile manufacturers have been revised and readjusted. Some CEOs of those companies spoke optimistically about achieving full autonomy — Level 5, in the parlance — in 2020. Or maybe 2021. Or the early 2020s.

Now, it’s not quite clear when that might be achieved, though Tesla head Elon Musk continues to insist that his company will be producing fully autonomous vehicles by the end of 2020. Much depends, however, on how quickly 5G (i.e., the fifth generation of wireless technology) realizes wide dissemination, and that too remains up in the air. The best guess is that coverage will improve dramatically in 2020, and that 5G will be available in most areas of the U.S. by 2022. That breakthrough will reduce latency for all electronic devices, which is especially critical to the operation of an AV.

In the meantime we have seen technology proceed down a path that is at once parallel and literally slower with the advent of autonomous bicycles. Particularly notable is the development in 2019 of a Chinese bike featuring a neuromorphic computer chip (i.e., a chip that approximates the structure of the human brain, in that it is comprised of artificial neurons). That enabled the bike to proceed on its merry way — to navigate a track, avoid obstacles and even respond to voice commands.

Recent years have also seen the development at MIT of something called the Persuasive Electric Vehicle (PEV), an adult-sized tricycle that might one day be of use for ride-sharing services — not to mention package delivery services, as it features a secure box for parcels. A company called Scootbe also introduced a three-wheeled self-propelled scooter, while BMW came out with the prototype for a self-driving motorcycle.

The work of a company called Jump, which is owned by Uber, is also notable, as it developed a bike with a swappable battery — something that is of great importance to bike-sharing services, as it precludes the need to return the entire bike to a central location for charging; rather, the battery is simply replaced, and the rider goes on his or her way.

There were also unconfirmed reports in early 2019 that Uber was hoping to make further inroads in the micromobility space, compelling Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation systems analyst for the Center of Automotive Research, to tweet out his dismay. As noted in a post on The Verge, Dennis called autonomous bikes “the worst new mobility idea yet,” and enumerated the problems on an extensive Twitter thread:

  • A stabilization system would prove to be both costly and weighty:
  • Sensors would need to be more durable than those on cars:
  • Developing a suitable computer unit (a problem apparently addressed by the subsequent introduction of the neuromorphic chip); and
  • The swappable battery might be easy to change, but it is also easy to steal.

Dennis emphasized that while it might be possible to develop the necessary technology, he doesn’t believe autonomous bikes can be part of a sound business model.

While that might be true, there are also environmental considerations. As Jimmy O’Dea, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Vice.com: “Any technology that gets people out of cars is intriguing and worth exploring,” before adding that he favors “a zero-emissions bike over anything with a tailpipe.”

It seems safe to say, then, that developments will continue in this space — that not only ride-sharing services, but those people seeking alternate means to a car that burns fossil fuel, will see value in an autonomous bicycle.

By |January 24th, 2020|Tags: , , , |

How the IoT Can Give Electric Cars a Jolt

The consensus is that electric vehicles are going to continue to rise in popularity, due to their efficiency, long-term cost effectiveness and environmental friendliness. One breathless dispatch predicted, in fact, that 2020 will be “the big breakthrough year” in this sector, and noted that while 40 plug-in cars were available in the U.S. at the beginning of 2019, 10 more will be introduced in the year ahead.

Then 14 new cars were listed. Not 10 — 14. Apparently the market is growing so fast, it’s hard to keep track.

The larger point remains, however: Electric cars are hot, and getting hotter. By the end of 2018 there were 1 million EVs on American roads (which nonetheless represents just one percent of the nation’s vehicles), with the expectation that there will be 18.7 million by 2030.

CNN Business, citing research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), further projected that by 2040 worldwide sales of electric vehicles will reach 56 million, 54 million more than were sold in 2018. In the meantime sales of conventional internal combustion vehicles are expected to decrease by over 50 percent, from 85 million in 2018 to 42 million, in 2040.

Another CNN piece, which reported on efforts by manufacturers like Volkswagen to keep pace with industry leader Tesla, used the same BNEF information to reach a slightly more conservative conclusion — that in 2040, 48.8 million electric vehicles will be sold, compared to 42.2 million conventional vehicles.

No matter how the information is interpreted, the momentum seems clear. As Al Bedwell, LMC’s director of global powertrain, told CNN:

“There’s just such an incredible amount of money being poured into electric cars. I’ve been looking at this industry for 20 years, and my real gut feeling is that it’s kind of unstoppable now.”

The reasons, according to the piece, are that battery prices will continue to drop — they are down 85 percent per kilowatt hour since 2010, in fact — while governments will continue to provide subsidies and regulators will continue to apply pressure, as evidenced by the fact that the European Union and even China have emissions standards they hope to reach.

Less clear is where the U.S. is headed on the latter front, given the Trump Administration’s plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, a process that formally began in November 2019 and is expected to be completed by November 2020. While the production of EVs was part of a larger goal to reduce 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, the U.S.’s intentions now remain to be seen.

Infrastructure is one of the bigger factors that will impact EV popularity and sales. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are just 13,000 fast-charging stations across the country, compared to 332,000 gas stations. And it is expected that some 9.6 million ports (not stations — ports) will be needed to support those 18.7 million EVs that will be on the road in 2030.

The Internet of Things has a wide-ranging role here, in that smart technology will enable drivers to find charging stations and make payments, while also providing EV chargers vendors, sellers and service companies (as well as station owners) with critical data.

Price point is another factor that will affect EV sales, as is vehicle range. Of the 16 electric vehicles listed for sale in the U.S. in one report, the cheapest (a Hyundai Ioniq Electric) went for $30,000, while the one with the greatest range was an $80,000 Tesla Model S, which can go 370 miles between charges. The counterargument regarding price is that there are few long-term fuel and maintenance costs. As for range, that is bound to improve as the technology is upgraded.

The bottom line, then, is that while there are some bugs to work out, the prospects for EVs are good, and getting better. I would advise any investor to give serious consideration to this market sector, as it holds considerable promise.

By |January 3rd, 2020|Tags: , , , |

The Limits of CBD Would Appear to be, well, Limitless

The breathless headline in the Aug. 27 editions of a British tabloid had the desired effect, in that it made one do a double-take: “Man claims he is ‘essentially cancer free’ after quitting chemotherapy in favour of cannabis oil — and says it helped to reduce his TWELVE brain tumours by 95 per cent.” The accompanying story related how 30-year-old George Gannon went the CBD route after stopping chemotherapy in December 2018, with dramatic results.

While CBD (which, unlike THC, is believed to be the non-psychoactive element in cannabis) might or might not prove to be a cancer antidote — tabloids, after all, are the very embodiment of fake news — there are signs it might be effective against multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. And in June 2018, the FDA approved CBD extract to treat two rare forms of epilepsy.

Much is still to be learned about CBD, but the hype has proceeded and appears to be accelerating. There are claims that it cures PTSD, arthritis, insomnia and depression. That it can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. That it can alleviate anxiety, asthma, autism and anger, and possibly be used to treat addiction.

CBD-infused products have, as a result, flooded the market. There are gummies and lotions and chocolates, and even beers and chocolates and marshmallows. Carl’s Jr., a fast-food chain, even test-marketed a CBD-laced burger in Colorado. It is expected that CBD will be a $16 billion industry in the U.S. by 2025, according to an Oct. 17 New York Times piece.

That same article noted that cannabis had been used for medicinal purposes in Central Asia as far back as 750 B.C. The Times noted in a separate report — a deep dive into CBD-mania that appeared back in May — that usage later spread to Africa and, as a result of the slave trade, South America and the Caribbean. Europe and North America were slower to follow, and pot was driven underground in the U.S. by the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, not to mention Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970.

There has been some softening on the legislative front. Particularly noteworthy was the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, which legalized hemp, a form of cannabis low in THC but high in CBD. There was also FDA approval that same year of CBD in dealing with those two forms of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, as mentioned above. (That came about in no small part because of the search on the part of a Colorado mother, Paige Figi, for a cure to the Dravet-induced seizures afflicting her young daughter, Charlotte.)

But studies about CBD’s effectiveness in dealing with PTSD, insomnia, depression and anxiety failed to show a link, and those examining its impact on MS, Parkinson’s and asthma were inconclusive. 

The other concern is quality control. A 2017 Journal of American Medicine study of 84 CBD products found that 26 percent had less CBD than advertised, while 43 percent had more. 

Suffice it to say we remain on a voyage of discovery when it comes to CBD — that for all the promise and all the hype, there are many questions that still need to be answered. Nonetheless, I, for one, am a proponent of the industry and firmly believe that CBD is a worthy area of investment consideration and represents a budding market that will continue to command consumer attention and drive product demand.

By |December 18th, 2019|