On MedTech, digital and unintended consequences

On MedTech, digital and unintended consequences

I was recently invited to give a keynote speech at the launch of Grow MedTech –  a major UK programme providing specialist support for innovation in medical technologies, involving a consortium of six universities across the Leeds and Sheffield city regions. With the programme’s interest in convergence between MedTech and digital technologies, I shared some thoughts about the dangers of unintended consequences along with the role of human-centred design in creating a future we want for ourselves as individuals, our families, communities and wider society. Below is a summary of my talk. I began by posing a few questions: Who would have thought that one of the consequences of the phenomenal global success of AirBnB would be protests related to lack of affordable accommodation and the rise in homelessness? How many of us would be surprised to know that the introduction of driverless cars in Leeds is projected to result in a 50% increase in car travel by 2050 along with associated reduction in walking and cycling? And if robots are the answer to the social care crisis for older people – what is the question? And what might be a different or even better question? I asked these questions not to be provocative, but to illustrate that we cannot easily anticipate the consequences of technology innovation. As we have seen in the case of data driven algorithms, technologies have all sorts of social norms, biases, beliefs, values, assumptions and consequences baked into them. By way of a health related example, this recent article in the New Yorker describes how American physicians in one Massachusetts hospital are hiring India-based...