Do Experts Slow Innovation?
Joseph F. Coughlin is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab (http://agelab.mit.edu). His research explores how demographic change, technology and consumer behavior drive innovations in business and society. Coughlin teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Sloan School's Advanced Management Program. He is author of the new book The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World's Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market (Public Affairs, 2017).
Innovation – everyone says they want it, but when it’s time to personally embrace it and change what they do everyday there is often reluctance, if not outright resistance.
In Doctors Slow to Embrace Telemedicine, Cloud Computing, Information Week’s Nicole Lewis reported the findings of CompTIA’s 3rd Annual Healthcare IT Insights and Opportunities Study. As the title indicates there is a gap between what technology can do and what the experts will do.
By its most basic definition, telemedicine is the use of information communications technology to diagnose, treat or otherwise provide information to improve a patient’s health status. From video conferencing to creative uses of smart phones to more sophisticated systems that can collect physical vitals from a patient far from a clinician, telemedicine has been around for nearly 50 years in one form or another. Whether older adults on the islands off Scotland’s coast, or rural elders in the townships of Maine and the villages of Africa, the aging populations who require care are more likely to be the furthest from it. Given the obvious benefits in reaching remote populations, telemedicine should, by now, be simply called…well, ‘medicine’.
But it isn’t yet. According to the CompTIA survey, only 14% of the healthcare respondents actively follow news in telemedicine – over 2.5 times more of those actively interested expressed little interest in the topic (37%). Perhaps more striking is that only one in 10 said they intend to use videoconferencing (the now-common tool teenagers use to do homework and socialize into the wee hours of the night) with a patient.
This is just one study. However, research conducted by my students and others in the field has shown a similar pattern that new technology often fails to be translated into innovation, not because the technology is ineffective or because the end user or beneficiary (i.e., the patient) is reluctant, but because those who are currently ‘experts’ in practice do not embrace its adoption.
Before everyone joins in on the now popular pastime of blaming clinicians for everything from high costs to poor care, we should consider the following: According to the dictionary, an expert is “a person who has special skill or knowledge in some particular field; specialist; authority.” Special skill and knowledge is acquired through learning and practice. What may be assumed but is not always realized, is that experts must aggressively continue learning new knowledge; adjusting their skills to changes in technology, systems and even public expectations, to remain expert. Given the speed of technological advance and knowledge creation, experts have to invest more time and more effort than ever before just to provide care let alone adopt new methods – well beyond the capabilities of most current continuing professional education programs. Even newly minted MDs and RNs are graduating with scant knowledge of how telemedicine should be used and how it might produce benefits beyond closing the distance gap between care and patient. There is only so much that you can squeeze into a crowded four years of medical and nursing curricula.
Clinician adoption of telemedicine is only one example of ‘where there is a need, there is a technology’, but it represents an ironically growing innovation gap that may disproportionately affect an aging society. There are others. Financial advisors, for example, have great expertise in retirement planning but are having difficulty redefining their business as longevity planning. Moreover, the tools of client engagement have changed. Retirement planners have traditionally relied on discussions around the family coffee table on a Saturday morning to plan the future – but today’s 24/7 on-the-move family requires online information sharing, mobile finance, and even apps that engage today’s behaviors in real-time while affecting investment income tomorrow. Thinking about renovating your home? There are plenty of contractors with expertise to build your dreams with passion and vision, but few that have adopted universal design standards or even fluency in the range of home features that may help you age independently and at home for a lifetime.
Innovating old age requires more than technology. It requires new thinking of how and what we teach next generation professionals; new practices of how we stay current and integrate new technologies into innovative services; and even the development of new professions we have yet to envision, who will use technologies we have yet to invent to take care of older adults yet to be born.
Image from Shutterstock.
It's just the current cycle that involves opiates, but methamphetamine, cocaine, and others have caused the trajectory of overdoses to head the same direction
- It appears that overdoses are increasing exponentially, no matter the drug itself
- If the study bears out, it means that even reducing opiates will not slow the trajectory.
- The causes of these trends remain obscure, but near the end of the write-up about the study, a hint might be apparent
Through computationally intensive computer simulations, researchers have discovered that "nuclear pasta," found in the crusts of neutron stars, is the strongest material in the universe.
- The strongest material in the universe may be the whimsically named "nuclear pasta."
- You can find this substance in the crust of neutron stars.
- This amazing material is super-dense, and is 10 billion times harder to break than steel.
Superman is known as the "Man of Steel" for his strength and indestructibility. But the discovery of a new material that's 10 billion times harder to break than steel begs the question—is it time for a new superhero known as "Nuclear Pasta"? That's the name of the substance that a team of researchers thinks is the strongest known material in the universe.
Unlike humans, when stars reach a certain age, they do not just wither and die, but they explode, collapsing into a mass of neurons. The resulting space entity, known as a neutron star, is incredibly dense. So much so that previous research showed that the surface of a such a star would feature amazingly strong material. The new research, which involved the largest-ever computer simulations of a neutron star's crust, proposes that "nuclear pasta," the material just under the surface, is actually stronger.
The competition between forces from protons and neutrons inside a neutron star create super-dense shapes that look like long cylinders or flat planes, referred to as "spaghetti" and "lasagna," respectively. That's also where we get the overall name of nuclear pasta.
Caplan & Horowitz/arXiv
Diagrams illustrating the different types of so-called nuclear pasta.
The researchers' computer simulations needed 2 million hours of processor time before completion, which would be, according to a press release from McGill University, "the equivalent of 250 years on a laptop with a single good GPU." Fortunately, the researchers had access to a supercomputer, although it still took a couple of years. The scientists' simulations consisted of stretching and deforming the nuclear pasta to see how it behaved and what it would take to break it.
While they were able to discover just how strong nuclear pasta seems to be, no one is holding their breath that we'll be sending out missions to mine this substance any time soon. Instead, the discovery has other significant applications.
One of the study's co-authors, Matthew Caplan, a postdoctoral research fellow at McGill University, said the neutron stars would be "a hundred trillion times denser than anything on earth." Understanding what's inside them would be valuable for astronomers because now only the outer layer of such starts can be observed.
"A lot of interesting physics is going on here under extreme conditions and so understanding the physical properties of a neutron star is a way for scientists to test their theories and models," Caplan added. "With this result, many problems need to be revisited. How large a mountain can you build on a neutron star before the crust breaks and it collapses? What will it look like? And most importantly, how can astronomers observe it?"
Another possibility worth studying is that, due to its instability, nuclear pasta might generate gravitational waves. It may be possible to observe them at some point here on Earth by utilizing very sensitive equipment.
The team of scientists also included A. S. Schneider from California Institute of Technology and C. J. Horowitz from Indiana University.
Check out the study "The elasticity of nuclear pasta," published in Physical Review Letters.
Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.
- Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
- Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
- The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.
The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.
To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.
In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.
An "unthinkable" engineering project
"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.
One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.
The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.
Source: Wolovick et al.
An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.
But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.
Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.
"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.
"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."
A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.
"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."
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