We’re all part of the TEDMED big data set

big data at TEDMEDThe first full day of TEDMED 2013 began by asking the question… how can big data become real wisdom?

The answer came from people with very diverse backgrounds. When was the last time you spent a couple hours bantering about health topics with an astrophysicist turned computer scientist, a palliative care oncologist, patient advocate and former NASA programmer, a computer scientist and networked sensing pioneer a mathematician and the publisher of Science News as well as the President of the Society for Science & the Public. Probably not recently, but for those at TEDMED it happened just this morning.

I will admit, the session raised more questions than provided answers – but I guess that’s the point of TEDMED. We’re here to challenge our thinking, look at the situation from a different perspective or even think about something for the very first time.

I’ll share the things that struck me this morning and have kept me thinking the rest of the day…

Larry Smarr is the astrophysicist turned computer scientist and he walked us through his colon – literally. His point was that each of us are basically a walking big data set and in the future this will enable us to participate in our own care because of the growing ability to analyze big data. His talk made me think of Danny Hillis and I had to wonder if the walk through Larry’s colon was an example of the preemptive health model Danny mentioned yesterday.

Max Little is a mathematician and he showed us how to solve health problems using math, he calls it the unreasonable effectiveness of math. Amy Abernethy is the former NASA programmer turned palliative care oncologist and patient advocate. She shared the idea of ‘data donorship’ and made me wonder why we aren’t already collectively learning from the bigger data pool.

Elizabeth Marincola is the publisher of Science News and President of the Society for Science & the Public. She shared her passion for public access to data and made me question the medical system I’ve worked in for many years. Why is there not more sharing of scientific information? What could we accomplish with an open data policy? She sees the perfect storm brewing – science, money and the public’s right to know are colliding.

I found the talk by Deborah Estrin, the computer scientist and networked sensing pioneer, to be the most interesting, eye opening and possibly the closest in immediate real world applicability. She talked about small data derived from our individual digital traces; sharing that each of us has our own social pulse graph. That means for all the big data we have, the learnings from our small data tell the real story. They’re the details that don’t come out in the routine doctor visit; they’re the details that indicate what’s truly occurring on a daily basis. It’s this leveraging of small data that can be used to make our health better.

In the end, we’re all part of the TEDMED big data set. Worldwide there are over 200,000 people participating in TEDMED, representing 81 countries. Locally in Washington DC there are 1,800 people, representing 48 states. TEDMED Live is being simulcast to groups at 2,700 locations and to individuals via tens of thousands of desktops. That’s some pretty big data.

Let us know your thoughts, do you think there is a role for big data inside of healthcare? Do you think we can use big data to improve health?

This post originally appeared on CROWDTalk.

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