Change the incentives, says MIT Media Lab's Joichi Ito

BOSTON—Predicting the future is becoming more and more futile, said Joichi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, speaking at the Connected Health Symposium, held by Partners HealthCare.

The key is responding to what’s happening now, he explained. “Whether you’re talking about designing an intervention or trying to come up with a strategy, instrumenting the world to have maximum awareness of your current situation is probably much more important than coming up with a 20-year roadmap.”

The traditional peer-reviewed, disciplinary, federally-funded research model is too narrow “considering the things we need to bring to bear,” he said. Research universities and large companies are ill-equipped to bring in the talent and thinking needed. Many different disciplines are involved in healthcare today, but the industry isn’t well designed to take advantage of all the technology, Ito said.

These different disciplines have evolved, but slowly. Funding also has been slow to keep up, he said. "Funding fails to cover the spaces between disciplines which are really rich with potential. This raises questions about how we do science."

Several aspects of healthcare can use artificial intelligence, Ito said, but "AI will only be as smart as the data we provide.” Machine learning will make systems more effective by ingesting data and starting to look for correlations. "You interrogate AI very much like you would a human being. The computer-human combination will be a winning team and medicine is a primary area where."

When asked about the future of connected health, Ito said “the potential of technology is tremendous but won’t be deployed unless we fix some of the broken incentive models.” He talked about how there is incentive to deliver fixes but not necessarily to eliminate problems. However, "we’re understanding the human body in fundamentally new ways, especially in personalized medicine. All of technology should be fully integrated with medicine.”