I think we have a lot to learn from CosPlayers

My late brother once said that the cure for cancer will probably come out of a fungus lab. His point was that we are too compartmentalized in our views about disease and how to use technology to cure illnesses. His point was that the solution to fighting cancer might already be lurking in some article in a journal that is rarely scanned by oncologists. Even when using Google, one physician may easily skip over a critical link based on its name or source.

Literally in the last couple of years, things have started to change as artificially intelligent agents, like IBM Watson, have been reading everything attainable. IBM Watson and equivalent systems are not initially biased against the sources of data. As such, if there is something to find and use that comes out of a lab that has nothing to do with cancer research, AI search tools will still find this. This capability has already changed the way oncologists work in the United States at major centers. This advance, thanks to technology, brings hope to so many people desperately in need.

There is an old joke that two friends are looking for a lost item. One friend says to the other, do you have any idea of where you may have lost the item. The second friend points to a corner on the other side of the room. The first friend then simply asks, if you think that you lost the item on the other side of the room, why are we looking here? The answer of the second friend is that the light is better in this corner.

This joke may be older than my wife’s father, may he be well and happy for many years to come, but it teaches something which is still so very true – that we all tend to look for answers in the places that are convenient and obvious. Thinking outside of the box can be very difficult, and sometimes even embarrassing. People who try to do research that is potentially groundbreaking, might come up against tremendous resistance because the idea is so innovative.

I remember being at a respected conference where the speaker started his presentation with a statement that he himself is incredibly surprised by the results of his work. He admitted that he was so biased against the possibility of the research succeeding, that one could easily argue that he tainted the data. Even so, his results were so dramatic that he felt a critical responsibility to share them. And he also knew that the likelihood of getting his results published in a highly regarded journal was very small. Of course, things should not be this way, but they are.

At the end of the presentation, one professor stood up and quite angrily, challenged the speaker with wasting the time of the audience with what  he claimed to be black magic. The speaker retorted that the research was done according to protocol, and the results are what they are. The speaker also said that it is expected that his study will be repeated by other researchers who will then share their data and conclusions. But it was clear from the whole exchange that a decision had already been made, based on absolutely nothing, that the technology being discussed would never be included in the general care of patients.

I personally have not come across any articles speaking of this technology. I can only assume that the presenter failed to advance the research for all the reasons I noted above. And I personally think this is a classic display of the typical closemindedness that is still very widespread in the medical fields as well as other basic research areas.

Today, I clicked on one of the many links I am sent from various sources. This particular link is about six months old, and describes in approximately 3 minutes how an engineer/designer created a real working version [without flight capability] of the armor called “the Hulk Buster” from  the second Avengers movie.

It is far too easy to dismiss the individual who does this work as a toymaker with an out-of-control imagination. And even at the end of the video when you see the device he built working, it is still far too easy to call this an overrated costume that is admired only by the kind of people who attend ComicCon. The designer himself has no grand aspirations beyond spending his days designing and building whatever his imagination can conceive of. And he makes a living from this because people purchase his “costumes” for various uses, all of which fall under the heading of entertainment.

When I saw this video, all I could think of is potential. The brief description of the internal workings of this huge “toy”, made it clear to me that further upgrades could turn this Hulk Buster into a real life, life saving tool. With further protection against firearms and perhaps even grenades, I could easily see this working prototype as a tool that would be used by police officers or firefighters in situations that were especially dangerous. For all intents and purposes, this is a Robocop system which any human could use. I suspect that the cost of maintaining a few of these Hulk Busters would be less than the cost of supporting a family of a fallen police officer or firefighter.

Can you imagine the chief of police walking into the mayor’s office and suggesting that the city invest in turning a costume into a real-life device for fighting crime? I can easily imagine the mayor stopping to laugh only to tell the police chief to stop drinking on the job and to go back and worry about fighting crime in regular clothes. I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that I would consider the mayor to be a fool with absolutely no vision. But for some reason, there is a collective mindset that refuses to accept new ideas that stray too far from what is already out there. Steve Jobs was magically inclined to get people on board with technologies that were totally groundbreaking. But it seems that his gift was in many ways lost when he passed on.

I will once again referred to the magical billion dollars in my pocket that I have already spent on a number of other ideas I have mentioned in my blog posts. But unbeknownst to my wife, I hid a couple of hundred million under my pillow. So I still have what to play with. I would find people like this developer and I would bring them together, offer them the space in a huge factory full of baseline materials, 3-D printers, and all the technology necessary, to manifest their imaginations.

I would tell this engineer to work with material experts to find the best way to protect the human inside the Hulk Buster suit. The idea would be to make it fireproof and to make its internal environment self-regulating in terms of heat and fluids for the operator. Ideally, this suit would become fully automated and managed via a virtual reality hookup. This is an exact copy of how Ironman operated a number of his  suits. There is absolutely no technological reason why this could not be done. So for anyone laughing at my comments, quite frankly, I am underwhelmed by your lack of imagination.

I am going to jump to another technology that is in desperate need of a fundamental upgrade. Cell phone technology is struggling. The latest versions of the top selling phones are definitely amazing devices, but fail to introduce major new innovations. I am personally using a phone that is already considered at least one generation behind, yet I find it totally adequate for my needs. All it takes is for a few million people to feel the same way, and a major company can suffer  billion-dollar losses.

I am by far not the only one who foresees critical technology being shrunk down to the point where it can be easily implanted anywhere on the body. Just in the last couple of days, I have seen a number of reports on a flexible sensor that wraps around a person’s wrist and can detect the level of sugar in the person’s sweat. More so, this device can actually deliver insulin. There are certain issues with this device specifically because it relies on sweat rather than some internal measure of blood sugar. But it’s clear that our cell phones will most likely transform into some type of flexible super-thin item that can be worn or integrated into our clothes or, as I believe, will be implanted.

A lot of people feel very uncomfortable about the idea of having a tiny implant in their body. This implant could be for collecting medical information, for communications, and basically for anything you can imagine. The kinds of implants that are presently being studied and tested are less than an inch long. Once they are inserted, the user quickly forgets about them. Considering how many people have entire huge joints replaced with titanium equivalents, it strikes me as strange that people are so frightened of such a tiny implement. Admittedly, what scares people is that such an implant could be used to track them or somehow control them. Considering that everyone has a phone that can be easily used to not only track them, but to spy on them in any possible way, the concerns about implants  are nothing less than ridiculous.

I have high blood pressure and type II diabetes. If there was an implant available today that could spare me the need to go see my doctor in order to know what my blood pressure is and what my sugar levels are, I would demand to have it implanted immediately. I could sit comfortably and watch my sugar levels dance around on my screen or phone, as I have my totally unhealthy sandwich. I could share the information with my doctor who would just continue to be frustrated with my lifestyle. I can say without any hesitation, that I have absolutely no concerns about such implants. If such an implant could also replace my phone and, as has been shown already in a number of movies, display my phone’s interface on my skin or via my glasses, I would be even more driven to get the implant.

What about upgrades? What about failures in the devices? These are very legitimate concerns. And it could be that once a year I have to visit my doctor to re-incise my skin and replace my old implant with the newest one that just came out [and is available at half price on eBay]. With a little bit of anesthetic cream over the area, the procedure literally would be painless. Sounds like a great deal to me.

How does this type of technology link together with the kind of people who build extreme costumes? The answer is simple: imagination. The same kind of person who can build a working Hulk Buster suit can contribute his vision and unique perspective to the group that is working on the latest and greatest implants. Allow these groups to freely exchange ideas and you may discover that there is a tremendous crossover between the teams. Perhaps the Hulk Buster group would be very interested in implanting a tracking device that would constantly verify the health status of the operator. Who knows? And we won’t know until we bring such teams  together and allow their imaginations to soar.

I have painfully come to terms with the fact that many of my ideas will likely never see the light of day. There are people who I could share these ideas with, but they lack the vision and interest to explore them. Some of these people believe that the money they make has greater value in other projects. Of course, it’s their money and it’s their right to use it as they wish. And if I was really serious, I could try approaching investors on my own and sell them on my ideas. I am really serious – but I am a lousy salesman in the worst businessman, and thus  I will just sit and write blog posts about my ideas.

Maybe out there, there is someone who will take my ideas presented throughout my blog posts and do something with them. And if that someone does succeed, I will thank them with all my heart for doing what I could not do, and for doing what was needed. In the meantime, I will keep writing and keep hoping.

Thanks for listening

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.