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The future of work continues to be rewritten

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This post references my recent presentation at Startupfest, Montreal. I’ve been studying the future of work for a number of years and it’s now come full circle in an environment and among business leaders who are more accepting of what’s in store in the coming decades and what they need to do to survive.

Currently, we live in this world of imbalance. Do you remember when business had a strong influence on how the markets behaved? We’ve seen this decline over the past few decades and business is being held hostage by their own doing. These corporations built these infrastructures based on markets that were predictable and environments that were relatively stable. The tables have turned and today markets are moving at a speed where business is struggling to keep pace. I’ve seen firsthand how technology has wielded its way into the marketing and media sector. It changed the way people consumed information, how they interacted with each other and how they bought. At the same time, it has obsoleted the very practices I’ve known be true.

Look at what’s happened in the last year alone: This digital disruption in retail has witnessed at least 21 U.S. retailers filing for bankruptcy protection in 2017 including Toys R Us, The Limited, and Payless. We have seen the demise of Sears in recent months.  The move to digital channels has been steady but incessant. Also, consider the changes within the $7.6 trillion global travel and tourism sector that necessitate continuous iteration of current business models. Because of Airbnb and Uber, which have, respectively, booked on average 100 million room nights per year and 40 million rides per month, pronounced shifts within this industry are happening today. At the heart of all this disruption is the explosion of adoption at the consumer level. The consumer is digital.

The most dangerous phrase … is: “We’ve always done it this way”

The way it was DONE could no longer be the way it WILL Be.

Consider the time it takes for a new product or technology to reach a significant milestone in user acceptance. It took the landline telephone 75 years to hit 50 million users. It took airplanes 68 years, the automobile, 62 years, and television, 22 years. Today, disruption is the new normal. Look at the impact of technology since the year 2000. YouTube, Facebook and Twitter were able to capture 50 million users in four, three and two years, respectively. These are nothing when compared to Angry Birds, which took a mere 35 days to reach 50 million users.

Creative destruction is moving at an accelerating pace. By leveraging the same systems, the same processes, the same best practices from legacy businesses to the predict market behavior, business will continue to chase the market and miss enormous opportunities.
Imagine a world in which the average company lasted just 12 years on the S&P 500.

A gale force warning to leaders: at the current churn rate, about half of S&P 500 companies will be replaced over the next ten years. The 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027.

Over the past five years alone, the companies that have been displaced from the S&P list include many iconic corporations: Yahoo! Staples, Dun & Bradstreet, Safeway, and Dell.

The environment is dictating how businesses organize

We have to consider the trends and what may seem like sustainable developments within the current environment, the interplay of technology and opportunity which will impact the way markets think, the way they behave and what they will expect. Four rising factors that will impact business include:

  1. Urbanization:  Throughout the world, urban populations are growing much faster than rural populations. Today, cities occupy just 2.6% of the earth’s crust, “but are home to more than 50% of the world’s population, generate more than 80% of the world’s GDP and use 75% of the world’s natural resources.” By 2030 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. This will have significant implications on demand for the world’s resources. It will also create an increased service economy and bring with it, more complexity. The growth of cities will mean consumer expectations will not wane. They want things fast, easy, convenient, and affordable
  2. The Gig Economy: By 2030, 43% of the workforce will be freelance. CEOs will need to encourage their organizations to adopt agile workforce strategies to meet the rapidly changing skills market. Increased competition will force companies to lower costs while improving productivity, which will mean they will hire for tasks vs headcount. To remain competitive, this idea of permanent workforce will not prevail. This will come at a time when workers will be interested in adopting more flexible working arrangements because it will grant them greater control, growth and even job security. The “liquid” workforce will also compel employers to continuously train staff and move them around the organization as needed.
  3. Social Responsibility:  Consumers in developed economies are becoming more value conscious and this is putting more pressure on companies to find ways to do more, and to do better. The buying model has shifted. The reputation of a company is now highly correlated with revenue. Employees will also weigh in and their collective voices will be more pronounced. Implications for employee retention will be profound as it is today. A study from Accenture for the World Economic Forum showed when there is a high level of trust in a company, it attracts new customers and strengthens existing ones. A high level of trust also makes employees more committed to staying with the company, and partners, and more willing to collaborate.
  4. Transparency:  If the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook data leak taught us anything, consumers are better informed, have higher expectations and demand much more transparency in how their information is being used. Trust becomes an important value in privacy and ethics, especially when data becomes the engine that drives many of tomorrow’s decisions. Mary Meeker references this Paradox of Privacy, where organizations seek to leverage personal information to provide more customization and, at the same time, are increasingly scrutinized in how they use the information. This is the first time the consumer is being given control over their own information. This wild west of rampant experimentation that created opportunism in business and in politics, at the expense of the individual, is over.

As Dave Gray, Author of the Connected Company pointed out,

“Business requires dismantling of its precious infrastructure”

New Mindsets: New Organizational Structure


The way business organizes today is through process and hierarchy. There are only a few people at the top. The work is divided and everyone gets their box in which they work. Rules ensure all decisions are run up the flagpole. The industrial revolution created this structure as well as a system of disseminated accountability. It was easy to hide behind your job description and claim, “It’s not my responsibility”. The division of work created these silos that stifled information sharing and ultimately, the speed of decisions.

Business 3.o must be:

  • ethical
  • empathic
  • nimble

Make no mistake – companies will be judged by their customers, their employees, their partners and their investors. How business innovates around these constituencies will determine their longevity.

Enter “Holacracy” 

What has been around for decades but hasn’t been as pervasive is this notion of self-management or HOLACRACY. This was developed through an agile methodology, which advocated the workflow. This allowed engineers to develop ideas without managerial direction. This “Fractal System is a complex, non-linear, and interactive system” and adapts readily to a changing environment. These systems are characterized by the potential for self-management especially in environments where balance does not exist.

So while the core functions are contained at the center of this org structure, including the policies and standards of the organization, the outer layer contains these pods of excellence, which allow for rapid experimentation, more fluid collaboration and where the members have direct accountabilities to the work unit. The individuals within these independent units are empowered to test, build, deploy, measure and iterate much more quickly than if they worked within today’s hierarchical structure.

Business Must Design for Ambiguity

…where complexity and uncertainty are the rules.  Three strategies that respond to this environment include:

    • The Perpetual Learning Organization – Digital business requires companies to act and respond faster than they ever have before.  While modifying the current communication and decision making structures will enable this, the widening business-to-market gap will mean closing the skills and knowledge gap between employees and a marketplace facing continuous change. This requires organizations to embed learning management systems to bring employees up to speed on market trends, to train and re-skill them on new technology, to encourage participation in new product development, plus modify job roles so they evolve with the new technology.  This will create an expectation of life-long learning within the culture.
    • Design Thinking – This is a strategic practice that radically changes the mindset of an organization from “static to fluid.” At the heart of this approach is to solve problems that are human-centered. In addition, collaboration is required cross-functionally to determine the impacts on all parts of the organization.  Rigorous data collection is required at all stages to ensure thorough identification of impacts to workflow and functional requirements. The focused group is created to speed up the process of innovation, get the required feedback and make autonomous decisions.  This method will discover redundancies in the current systems, but will also allow strengthening collaboration as employees within these groups will be much more energized to collaborate and own their solutions.  Projects will be able to go into production much faster as long as there is accountability and validation at each stage. This methodology fits squarely into the holocratic organizational strategy that ensures functional participation and empowers accountable experimentation and deployment.
    • Privacy by Design –  Data will drive everything in this century. Slowly boundaries are being severed between countries and organizations to contextualize information for the purpose of gaining increasing insight. What is also clear is the rise of the General Data and Protection Regulation (GDPR) that is telling organizations to slow down and put into place, standards and policy for the responsible collection, use and aggregation of information. Privacy by Design was developed by Dr. Ann Cavoukian, a 3-term Privacy Commissioner in Ontario. In the 1990’s, Cavoukian conceived of this idea to address the growing “systemic effects” as communication and information technologies integrated within increasingly networked data systems. When companies in the future are faced with petabytes of data being streamed from multiple feeds, there will be a mandate to explain model outputs. As well, functionally embedding privacy that is fair and moral into each layer of our systems will be required. Defining “fair” and “moral” needs to be functionally explicit. Continuous audits for fairness within systems and practices will also be required. The patterns that algorithms will detect will create opportunistic tendencies. This quote from an executive at Salesforce at a recent conference summed up nicely how business should respond: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”. As we marshall into more disruptive technology using data, business will need to understand the long-term implications for the society at large.

This is the future of the “long-lived” company:

Connected companies learn and move faster, seize opportunities and link to a network of possibilities to spread their influence. ~Dave Gray

The future of work means destruction of silos. The panacea is a more fluid organization where decisions are made at the edges, where the business is in sync with its market, and where business perpetuates a value system that keeps it humming nicely.

Please reference the presentation here.

This post originally appeared on Forbes.

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Society desperately needs an alternative web

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I see a society that is crumbling. The rampant technology is simultaneously capsizing industries that were previously the bread and butter of economic growth. The working man and woman have felt its effects as wages stagnate and employment opportunities remain fewer amidst a progressively automated economy. Increasing wage inequality and financial vulnerability have given rise to populism, and the domino effects are spreading.

People are angry. They demand fairness and are threatened by policies and outsiders that may endanger their livelihoods. This has caused a greater cultural and racial divide within and between nations. Technology has enabled this anger to spread, influence and manipulate at a much greater speed than ever before resulting in increasing polarization and a sweeping anxiety epidemic.

Globally, we are much more connected – this, to our detriment. We’ve witnessed both government and business leverage technology to spread disinformation for their gains. While regulators struggle to keep pace with these harms, the tech giants continue, unabated, to wield their influence and power to establish footprints that make both consumers and business increasingly dependent on their platforms and technology stacks. We cannot escape them, nor do we want to. Therein lays the concern…

This recent article, “The World is Choking on Data Pollution” offered a profound distillation of what we are witnessing today:

Progress has not been without a price. Like the factories of 200 years ago, digital advances have given rise to a pollution that is reducing the quality of our lives and the strength of our democracy… We are now face-to-face with a system embedded in every structure of our lives and institutions, shaping our society in ways that deeply impact our basic values.

Tim Berners Lee’s Intent for the World Wide Web has Run Off-Course:

Tim Berners Lee had this Pollyannaish view once upon a time that went like this: What if we could develop a web that was free to use for everyone and that would fuel creativity, connection, knowledge and optimism across the globe? He believed the internet to be a basic human right,

…That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of web users regardless of where they live.

Between 1989 and 1991, Tim Berners Lee led the development of the World Wide Web and unleashed the “language HTML (hypertext markup language) to create the webpages HTTP (used to create web pages), HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol), and URLs (Universal Resource Locators).”

The now ubiquitous WWW set a movement which has scaled tremendously, reinventing the way we do business, access and consume information, create connections and perpetuating an unrelenting mindset of innovation and optimism.

What has also transpired is a web of unbridled opportunism and exploitation, uncertainty and disparity. We see increasing pockets of silos and echo chambers fueled by anxiety, misplaced trust and confirmation bias. As the mainstream consumer lays witness to these intentions, we notice a growing marginalization that propels more to unplug from these communities and applications to safeguard their mental health. However, the addiction technology has produced cannot be easily remedied. In the meantime, people continue to suffer.

What has been most distressing are the effects of cyberbullying on our children. In 2016, The National Crime Prevention reported 43% of teens were subjects of cyberbullying, an increase of 11% from a decade prior. Some other numbing statistics:

  • “2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting revealed the number of children admitted to hospitals for attempted suicide or expressing suicidal thoughts doubled between 2008 and 2015”
  • “Javelin Research finds that children who are bullied are 9 times more likely to be the victims of identity fraud as well.”
  • “Data from numerous studies also indicate that social media is now the favored medium for cyberbullies”

Big Tech: Too Big to Fail?

As the web evolved throughout the 90s we witnessed the emergence of hefty players like Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and later Facebook and Amazon. As Chris Dixon asserted:

During the second era of the internet, from the mid 2000s to the present, for-profit tech companies — most notably Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon (GAFA) — built software and services that rapidly outpaced the capabilities of open protocols. The explosive growth of smartphones accelerated this trend as mobile apps became the majority of internet use. Eventually users migrated from open services to these more sophisticated, centralized services. Even when users still accessed open protocols like the web, they would typically do so mediated by GAFA software and services.

Today, we appropriately apply a few acronyms to these giants: G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, Apple), or FAANG (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google) and now BAT (Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent). These players have created a progressively centralized internet that has limited competition and has stifled the growth of startups, which are more vulnerable to these tech giants. My discussion with a social network founder (who asked to remain nameless) spoke of one of the large platforms which continuously copied newly released features from their site, and they did so transparently because “they could.” He also witnessed a stall of user engagement and eventual churn. He was unable to compete effectively without the necessary resources and eventually relented, changing his business model and withdrawing to the cryptocurrency community to start anew.

Consider this: These eight players Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Tencent, Baidu, and Alibaba are larger than the “market cap of every listed company in the Eurozone in Emerging Markets and in Japan.” G-MAFIA (excluding IBM) combined posted average returns in 2018 of 45% compared with 19% return among S&P500.  Now add the high degree of consolidation of the tech industry. Together FAANG has acquired 398 companies since 2007. The type of acquisitions has heightened interest from regulators and economists towards anti-trust regulation. Add to this list the highest-ever acquisition in history with IBM’s purchase of Red Hatat a reported $34 billion.

Big tech valuations continue to rise despite the sins illuminated by their technologies. There is this dichotomy that pits what’s good for consumers against what’s good for shareholders. We’ve derived some great experiences from these platforms, but we’ve also seen examples of invisible harms. However unintended, they surface as a result of the business mandate to prioritize user growth and engagement. These performance indicators are what drive employee performance and company objectives. When we think about the impact of big tech, their cloud environments and web hosting servers ensure our emails, our social presence, and our websites are available to everyone on the web. In essence, they control how the internet is run.

Amy Webb, Author of  “The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and their Thinking Machines could Warp Humanity” refers not only to G-MAFIA but also BAT (the consortium that has led the charge in the highly controversial Social Credit system to create a trust value among its Chinese citizens). She writes:

We stop assuming that the G-MAFIA (Google, Apple, Facebook, IBM, and Amazon) can serve its DC and Wall Street masters equally and that the free markets and our entrepreneurial spirit will produce the best possible outcomes for AI and humanity

These Nine will shape the future of the internet, no doubt. Webb envisions several scenarios where China’s encroaching influence will enable an AGI to control the world much more pervasively than the Social Credit System, and where “democracy will end” in the United States. This is not implausible as we are already seeing signs of BAT’s increased fundingacross gaming, social media, fintech sectors, outpacing the US in investment.

Webb also foresees a future of stifling individual privacy where our personal information is locked in the operating systems of these tech giants, now functioning oligopolies, fueling a “digital caste system,” mimicking a familiar authoritarian system in China.

This future that Webb forecasts is conceivable. Today, beyond Cambridge Analytica and government’s alleged use of Facebook to manipulate voters and seed chaos, the damages, however divergent, are more pervasive and are more connected to one another than we realize. We have seen Amazon’s facial recognition technology used in law enforcement, which has been deemed ineffective and wrought of racial bias.

In the same vein, Buzzfeed reported the use of facial recognition being used in retail systems without the regard for user consent. We believed in Facebook’s initiative to safeguard our security through two-factor authentication, while they used our mobile numbers to target our behavior and weaken our privacy in the process. Both Facebook and Amazon have been known to have experimented with our data to manipulate our emotions. When Tiktok was fined $5.7 million for illegally collecting children’s data, it was only following the lead of its predecessors.

The biggest data breaches of all time have involved some of the largest tech companies like FB, Yahoo! and Uber as well as established corporations like Marriott and Equifax. The downstream effects are yet to be realized as this data is bought and sold on the dark web to the highest bidders. When 23andMe created the Personal Genome Service as an offer to connect people to their roots, it was, instead, exposed as “front for a massive information-gathering operation against an unwitting public.”

This epidemic continues. What is emerging are the hidden intentions behind the algorithms and technology that make it more difficult to trust our peers, our institutions and our government. While employees were up in arms because of Google’s “Dragonfly” censored search engine with China and its Project Maven’s drone surveillance program with DARPA, there exist very few mechanisms to stop these initiatives from taking flight without proper oversight. The tech community argues they are different than Big Pharma or Banking. Regulating them would strangle the internet.

Technology precedes regulation. This new world has created scenarios that are unaddressable under current laws. There is a prevailing legal threat unleashed through the GDPR, however, there are aspects of it that some argue that may indeed stifle innovation. However, it’s a start. In the meantime, we need to progress so systems and governance are in sync, and tech giants are held in check. This is not an easy task.

Who is responsible for the consequences of AI decisions? What mechanisms should be in place to ensure that the industry does not act in ways that go against the public interest? How can practitioners determine whether a system is appropriate for the task and whether it remains appropriate over time? These were the very questions we attempted to answer at the UK/Canada Symposium on Ethics and Artificial Intelligence. There are no clear answers today.

Back to Basics: Can we re-decentralize an increasingly centralized internet?

Here’s a thought! How do we move our increasingly digital world into a place where we all feel safe; where we control our data; where our needs and desires are met without dependence on any one or two institutions to give us that value? The decentralized web is a mindset and a belief in an alternative structure that can address some of the afflictions that have risen from data pollution. This fringe notion is slowly making its way back to mainstream:

A Web designed to resist attempts to centralize its architecture, services, or protocols [so] that no individual, state, or corporation can substantially control its use.

Is it possible to reverse the deterioration we are experiencing today? I spoke with individuals who are working actively within the values of the decentralized web and are building towards this panacea. Andrew Hill and Carson Farmer developed Textile.IO, a digital wallet for photos that are entirely controlled and owned by the user. Textile.io didn’t start out as a decentralized project. As Andrew recalls:

We started this project asking: what was the future of personal data going to look in the future? We didn’t like the answer at all. It seemed like the ubiquity of data with the speed of computing power and increasing complexity of algorithms would lead us to a state that wouldn’t be good for us: easily manipulated, easily tracked and personal lives easily invaded by third parties (government, individuals and companies)

Carson Farmer noted that GMAIL is fundamentally a better user experience because individuals didn’t need to run their own protocols or set up their own servers. This “natural” progression” to centralized technologies has served the Big Nine well.

Since then, it’s been this runaway because of the capitalist value behind data. They are building business models behind it and it will not go away overnight. By putting our blind trust into a handful of corporations who collect our data, we’ve created a run-away effect (some folks call it ‘data network effects’) where those companies now create value from our data, that is orders of magnitude greater than any new entrant into the market is capable of. This means that the ‘greatest’ innovation around our digital data is coming from only a handful of large companies.

However, people, en-masse, don’t understand this imminent threat. Few really understand the implications of cybersecurity breaches, nor the impact to individual welfare or safety from the data they willingly provide these networks. How much of this needs mainstream to care about it to achieve the scalability it requires? Hill argues that few will abandon technologies unless their values are subdued by risk. Hill explained our “signaled intentions actually differ from our intended behaviors.” For example, many would support legislation to reduced speed limits in certain areas to minimize deaths from auto accidents. However, engineering this feature into self-driving cars so they are unable to go faster, would be far more objectionable because it impedes us.

Adoption of a decentralized web cannot play by the old rules. New experiences and interactions that are outside of current norms needs to appeal to individual values, that enable trust and ease of adoption. Pulling users away from convention is not an easy task. However, emerging organizations are starting to build bridges into the old technology in an effort to re-decentralizeMatrix.org has created an open standard for decentralized communications. The Dat Project, largely funded mainly by donations provides a peer to peer file sharing protocol to create a more human-centered internet, without the risk of data being sold. For Textile.io their version of Instagram allows users to add a photo to their mobile application, which exists on your phone, with a privately encrypted copy existing on an IPFS (“a peer-to-peer protocol for sharing hypermedia in distributed file system”) node off your phone. No one sees the encrypted photo version unless you share the private keys to that photo. Textile has no view into the data, nor an intention of processing or keeping it. Handshake.org is a “permissionless and decentralized naming protocol to replace the DNS root file and servers with a public commons”, uncensorable and free of any gatekeeper. The Internet Archive, started by Brewster Kale, is a non-profit library that has cataloged over 400 billion web pages in the last 22 years, also digitizing all-things analog (books, music, movies), with the attempt to save web history and knowledge with free access to anyone.

Wendy Hanamura, Director of the Internet Archive is also the Founder of DWeb, a summit which started in 2016 bringing together builders and non-builders within the 4 levers of change: 1) laws 2) markets 3) norms and values 4) technology to advocate a better web. The intention was to do a moonshot for the internet and create “A web that’s locked open for good.” Why now? Wendy declared,

In the last few years we have woken up to see that the web is failing us. We turn to our screens for information we are getting, instead, deception in fake news, non reliable information, missing data. A lot of us in the sector feel we could do better. Technology is one path to doing better.

The prevailing vision of the Dweb:

A goal in creating a Decentralized Web is to reduce or eliminate such centralized points of control. That way, if any player drops out, the system still works. Such a system could better help protect user privacy, ensure reliable access, and even make it possible for users to buy and sell directly, without having to go through websites that now serve as middlemen, and collect user data in the process.

While it’s still early day, for at least a decade many players have chosen to become part of this movement to fix the issues that increasing centralization has created. From Diaspora to Bit Torrent, a growing list of technologies continue to develop alternatives for the DWeb: for storage, social nets, communication and collaboration apps, database, cryptocurrencies, etc. Carson sees the Dweb evolving and feels the time is ripe for this opportunity:

Decentralization gives us a new way forward: decentralized data storage, encryption based privacy, and P2P networks give us the tools to imagine a world where individuals own and control their personal data. In that future, all technologies can build and contribute to the same data network effect. That is exciting because it means we can create a world with explosive innovation and value generation from our data, as opposed to one limited by the production capacity and imagination of those few companies…

Can the decentralized web fix this? In a world where trust is fleeting, this may be a significant pathway forward but it’s still early day. The DWeb is reawakening. The emergence of its players sees tremendous promise however, the experiences will need to get better. Many things must work in tandem. The public needs to be more informed of the impact on their individual rights and welfare. Business needs to change its mindset. I was reminded by Dr. George Tomko, Expert in Residence at the University of Toronto, that if business can become more human, to be more compassionate

…and have the ability to feel a person’s pain or discomfort and to care enough by collaborating with others in alleviating her pain or discomfort… what emerges is a society of greater empathy, and a culture that yields more success

Regulation has to also be in lock-step with technology but it must be informed and well thought out to encourage competition and minimize costs to the consumer. More importantly, we must encourage more solutions to bring more data control to the user to give him/her the experiences they want out of the web, without fear of repercussions. This was the original promise of the internet.

This originally appeared on Forbes.

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Canadian startup Deep Genomics uses AI to speed up drug discovery

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One of the biggest challenges pharmaceutical companies face is with the time taken to discover new drugs, develop them and get them to market. This lengthy process is punctuated with false starts. Startup Deep Genomics uses AI to accelerate the process.

Canadian startup Deep Genomics has been using artificial intelligence as a mechanism to speed up the drug discovery process, combining digital simulation technology with biological science and automation. The company has built a platform which uses machine learning to delve into the molecular basis of genetic diseases. The platform can analyze potential candidate drugs and identify those which appear most promising for further development by scientists.

The drug development process is dependent upon many factors, such as those relating to combining molecules (noting the interactions between hundreds of biological entities) and with the assessment of biomedical data. The data review required at these stages is highly complex. For these reasons, many researchers are seeking algorithms to help to extract data for analysis.

According to MaRS, Deep Genomics is addressing the time consuming element involved in the initial stages of drug discovery. The artificial intelligence system that the company has designed is able to process 69 billion molecules, comparing each one against around one million cellular processes. This type of analysis would have taken a conventional computer (or a team of humans) many years to run the necessary computations.

Within a few months, Deep Genomics AI has narrowed down the billions of combination to shortlist of 1,000 potential drugs. This process is not only faster, it narrows down the number of experiments that would need to be run, saving on laboratory tests and ensuring that only those drugs with a high chance of success are progressed to the clinical trial stage.

This type of system goes some way to addressing the lengthy typical time to market, which stands at around 14 years for a candidate drug; as well as reducing the costs for drug development, which run into the billions of dollars per drug.

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Health service partners with Alexa to provide medical support

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The U.K. National Health Service (NHS) is to partner with Amazon’s Alexa in order to provide health information. This is being piloted as an alternative to medical advice helplines and to reduce the number of medical appointments.

While the U.K. NHS is much admired around the world as a free-at-the-point-of-use healthcare system, health officials are always keen to find ways to reduce the strain on the systems, especially relating to medical visits where the process of booking appointments and waiting times for sessions with doctors can be lengthy. The average time to obtain a non-medical emergency appointment with a general medical practitioner is averaging around two weeks.

Although a non-emergency medical helpline is active (accessed by dialling 111), plus an online system, health officials are keen to explore other ways by which the U.K. population can access medical services. For this reason, NHS England is partnering with Amazon.

The use of Alexa voice technology not only offers an alternative service for digitally-savvy patients, it provides a potentially easier route for elderly and visually impaired citizens, as well as those who cannot access the Internet through a keyboard, to gain access to health information. This fits in with a new initiative from the U.K. Government called NHSX, which is about the NHS Long Term Plan intended to make more NHS services available digitally.

As PharmaPhorum reports, Alexa can now answer questions such as “Alexa, how do I treat a migraine?” and “Alexa, what are the symptoms of flu?”

Outside of the U.K., Amazon is working with several healthcare providers, including digital health coaching companies, in order to launch six new Alexa healthcare ‘skills’. According to Rachel Jiang, head of Alexa Health & Wellness: “Every day developers are inventing with voice to build helpful and convenient experiences for their customers. These new skills are designed to help customers manage a variety of healthcare needs at home simply using voice – whether it’s booking a medical appointment, accessing hospital post-discharge instructions, checking on the status of a prescription delivery and more.”

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