In today’s techno-society, one of the areas that most need to be pushed forward is healthcare. Despite incredible achievements and progress in many health fields, we still can’t fight deadly diseases or reduce human suffering in way too many cases.
But technology alone can’t solve it all. We have to follow two different, complementary pathways in which modern instruments are just part of the equation.
1: Technology to cure
The healthcare sector has always needed technology. It plays an essential role in both diagnosing and treating diseases. Advanced imaging techniques like MRI and CT scans have increased diagnostic accuracy, allowing medical professionals to provide more specific treatments. Robotic-assisted surgical systems, like the da Vinci Surgical System, offer precise, minimally invasive options that can result in fewer complications and quicker recovery times.
Telemedicine has expanded healthcare access, particularly beneficial for individuals in remote locations or those who have mobility issues. Its importance was further highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering a safe alternative for medical consultations.
In the field of genomic medicine, gene-editing technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 show promise for treating genetic disorders at their source. These techniques could potentially provide treatments for diseases such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia that are caused by genetic mutations.
Artificial intelligence is also making strides in healthcare. AI algorithms are capable of analyzing large datasets to forecast patient outcomes and suggest treatments. Companies like Merative (ex IBM Watson Health) and Google’s DeepMind are at the forefront, developing AI solutions for various healthcare applications. You’ve probably heard about DeepMind’s AlphaFold: the model that predicts the 3D structure of proteins, solving the decade-long protein-folding problem and unlocking myriads of possibilities related to tackling health—and more—problems (a couple of days ago they shared an exciting update along with Isomorphic Labs that announces Alphafold prediction capabilities to go beyond proteins).
Lastly, wearable technology is not limited to fitness tracking. Modern wearables can monitor vital signs such as heart rate and oxygen levels, facilitating proactive health management by the user and providing valuable data for healthcare providers. Whoop, Oura, and several other companies are conquering the market with their popular products.
Technology is fundamental to the current and future state of healthcare. It enhances diagnostic capabilities, offers new treatment avenues, and improves preventive care. Just think about what will be possible in a few years: it’s difficult not to be optimistic about one of the most powerful ways we have to cure diseases that we know can be there for us at any moment. It’s the only choice we have.
The controversial quest for reverse aging
Some of the current tech efforts are devoted to trying to reverse… the aging process. Yes, not to slow it down, not to stop it: to reverse it.
One of the most prominent figures in this space is Bryan Johnson, the British entrepreneur who made headlines for spending $2 million a year on anti-aging techniques. Some of these include ultra-discussed procedures like swapping blood plasma with his 18-year-old son (later dismissed because “it doesn’t work”).
Of course, there’s a line in all of this. A line most of us probably don’t want to cross. But still, I believe some good can come out even from these extreme obsessions.
2: Humanity to prevent
While technology plays a significant role in diagnosing and treating diseases, when it comes to prevention, the emphasis should actually shift mainly towards natural methods, powered by technological support. Take, for example, wearable devices such as those from Apple and Fitbit. These gadgets have evolved beyond basic pedometers to sophisticated health monitors that track an array of vital statistics. Metrics like heart rate, sleep quality, and blood oxygen levels are monitored in real time, providing users with valuable data that can inform daily lifestyle choices.
However, while technology offers a window into our physical health, the bulk of preventative measures actually reside in natural aspects, like nutrition and physical activity. Our modern lifestyle makes us eager to eat ultra-processed food that’s easy to get and highly palatable. It’s true that information about what’s good to eat and what’s not is updated every day, but in general, sticking to unprocessed and variate food sources seems like one of the safest paths to follow.
Physical exercise is another crucial element of preventative healthcare. The typical modern lifestyle often involves sedentary jobs and habits that end up taking a huge chunk of our days, ultimately leading to a higher risk of diseases and mortality. It’s easy to get caught up in thinking that physical activity requires too much commitment or effort, but even lighter forms of movement, like walking, can be effective in mitigating the downsides of the sedentary lifestyle and can also be sustainable.
As a software engineer myself, I spend way too much time sitting in front of screens. The way I’m trying to counterbalance this is by lifting weights at the gym around 3 times a week, walking at least 8,000-10,000 steps a day, and taking every occasion I have during work to move around. I don’t know if it’s enough, but given I want to be working in this field (and thus with these conditions), and I enjoy these forms of exercise more than everything else, it’s a viable option for me.
The social media effect on health and fitness
An often overlooked but significant factor in today’s health landscape is the role of social media in promoting a culture of well-being. Platforms like Instagram, YouTube, and even TikTok pose many risks, but they also have transformed the way we perceive fitness and health. Once viewed as boring or niche, exercise and a balanced diet have now been elevated to lifestyle choices, often glamorized and popularized by both social media influencers and individuals.
Accounts dedicated to fitness journeys, healthy recipes, and mindfulness techniques get millions of followers. These online communities offer a lot of information, motivation, and virtual support, turning wellness into a trending topic.
The appeal of such posts is twofold. First, they serve to inspire. When we see real people achieving real results, it humanizes the often intimidating journey towards better health. Second, by making fitness cool, social media has inadvertently served public health. Studies indicate that social norms and peer influence can significantly impact health behavior, meaning that the trending nature of fitness can lead to more people engaging in healthy practices.
This is not to discount the pitfalls associated with the social media portrayal of health: concerns around body image and the potential for misinformation do exist and are real problems. However, on balance, I think the net effect is largely positive.
More things to think about
X engineering results
Elon’s Twitter takeover has been a hot topic for a while now, but from an engineering perspective, the X Engineering team shared some incredible results.
Reducing the lines of code and the cloud storage and processing costs while optimizing functionality is remarkable, and surely sets an interesting trend of not only caring about adding but also about removing/optimizing where needed.
The way I currently think about work
Work is 100% one of the main sources of stress we have, for obvious reasons. The way I’m currently facing this fact is by trying my best to build optionality. I’m lucky enough to like one of the most trending and rewarding fields that exist today, but I think there are several things that are doable in different cases to create options.
These require a good amount of flexibility and curiosity, in my opinion. You should be able to investigate what works in the current environment, explore that, and integrate it with your passions and skills to plant seeds in different, promising places. This newsletter and every form of (conscious) online activity are good examples. Diving deeper into a topic that’s adjacent to what you do but highly in demand is a good example. There are lots of interesting “little” things you can do, but maybe this is a topic for another issue.
In response to the techno-optimism manifesto
I listened to a16z’s Marc Andreessen Techno-Optimist Manifesto podcast. The corresponding essay has been heavily debated in the tech world lately, largely due to an apparent blind trust in technology-driven progress.
I think these conversations are both interesting and important to have, but getting a deeper context on the topics that are explored through the podcast made me appreciate several of the considerations. While skepticism is good, I don’t see any other viable way of going forward today than being excited about solving problems through tech (but I also think problems are there, and ignoring them is not a good move).
A clever way to join the content machine
I mentioned the creation of online content to be a possible smart career move. But these days we seem to already have everything being told, explained, or created. What can one say today that hasn’t been said?
Well, some of my favorite content today is not original, it’s commentary. Prime’s channel is a daily watch on YouTube, and I think he has a really smart strategy: reacting to tech articles, videos, or posts.
His long experience in the field emerges, I’m able to learn new things while being entertained, and everyone’s happy. If you want to start speaking online, just pick content you like and add your 2 cents.