You don’t have to be called Alice to pass through the looking glass

My mother insists that when she was a teenager quite a few years ago in the former USSR, she did not have a mobile phone. I asked her how then did she check updates on Facebook. I was stunned to learn that she never joined Facebook. Even after explaining to her the fundamental inability for life to exist in the absence of the Internet, she went so far as to insist that mobile phones were not available even when I was born. I produced a number of photographs [perhaps somewhat massaged with Photoshop] clearly showing me as a toddler editing video on my cell phone. My mother was unconvinced. No one can say that I didn’t try.

It is absolutely astonishing that technologies that are fundamental to the way we live our lives, simply did not exist outside the pages of science fiction novels until very recently. I once heard a marvelous adage that stated “every technology is a luxury, until it becomes a convenience, until it becomes a necessity”. It seems that Microsoft was definitely listening.

A reader recently pointed out to me that I seem to have fallen in love with Apple. My last few blogs and my topic of discussion often turn to the incredible work that Apple is doing in the medical field. With the greatest respect to all those who bow to the obelisk in the shape of the iPhone 6, I personally experience some form of nausea when I am around a MacBook. I am apparently a tried-and-true PC, and no matter what, I will cling to my Windows desktop, until my dying day. Thankfully, Microsoft put on an amazing show at its Build conference that is presently going on in the US.

In the introductory keynote which was so enjoyable that it’s multi-hour length was not even felt, Microsoft demonstrated real world augmented reality software and hardware that really blows everything else out of the water. I am fully aware of the other 3-D technologies out there that are creating immersive environments that are frighteningly real. I personally much prefer augmented reality since it allows the user to interact with, well, reality. With Microsoft’s latest fare, computing is about to be fundamentally changed. And please believe me when I say, that I do not say such a thing lightly.

I appreciate the fact that many if not most people feel somewhat jaded by the endless stream of promises that they have heard coming out of Silicon Valley. Many times in the past, people have been told that the age of computing has finally matured to such a level that our lives will never be the same. In truth, our lives aren’t the same. Allowing for some degree of stuttering along the way, companies like Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, all of the gaming companies and so many more, have changed our world beyond recognition. 5 billion people in the world are connected to a Skynet-worthy network that allows for information exchange at a level never dreamed of before. The remaining 3 billion people will likely become connected in the next 10 to 20 years due to a whole range of projects by Richard Branson, Google, Facebook and others, geared towards sharing the Internet signal with every person on the planet. Despite every Windows 95 blue screen of death, and every handheld device that lost important data, we are now finally at a point, a flexion point, in the history of computing.

I’ve discussed before how we are now at a point where compatibility, data sharing, open systems, interoperability, advanced development environments and more, have come together in a perfect storm. Today (April 29, 2015) Microsoft demonstrated a version of Windows  that will be universally runnable on any and all Windows devices. More so, they have developed a whole huge suite of software, that will even allow android and Apple software to run in a Windows environment. This comes on top of Microsoft’s cloud technology that can host non-Microsoft software without a hitch.

My admiration is shared amongst many recipients. Thanks to Apple, the major EMR companies have a real shot at readily sharing information with patients and other systems. With Microsoft, people will be able to freely flow between multiple environments, multiple operating systems, and virtual worlds that bring all of this together. For what it’s worth, this time, things are different. We are all now witnessing a special moment.

When I was seven years old, I was playing in my room and my father called out to me to come quickly to the living room. I reluctantly left my toys behind and stood before the television. My father insisted that I watch what was on the screen because it was a once-in-history event. I didn’t appreciate what was on the screen and continued to pace back and forth until my father finally allowed me to return to my room. What my father had called me in to see was Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon. At the age of seven, I didn’t realize that I had just witnessed a new age. It is my opinion, that the sum total of the technologies that are now coming to market,  are creating a new age that is no less significant than what followed the first walk on the moon.

Just to show how quickly things change, I want to describe to you an exchange, that I still am having, on a special forum that the New England Journal of Medicine set up to encourage physicians to share ideas. The topic of this particular discussion was the role of empathy in the practice of medicine. I shared my opinion that empathy will become more and more important as a key characteristic in physicians, as more and more medical tasks are taken over by technology. At this moment, the last comment in this discussion related to the role of technology in educating physicians. I shared with the discussion group, the “hot off the presses” video from the Microsoft conference that demonstrated how medical education can now be delivered. This demonstration can be seen at this link. The technology demonstrated in this video is not sitting in a lab, with the hope of being released to the public in years from now. It is real technology that is now available and will be standard, probably across the world, by 2020. There is no point for me to further describe this technology. It really has to be seen.

Life is a moving target in this day and age. The things you learn in school and university are often out of date by the time you graduate. The way in which we interact with the world in the years to come, will require most of the adult population to fundamentally retrain itself. While the younger generations may enjoy the roller coaster ride that technology will bring, there will be many people who struggle with it.

No matter how comfortable a car may be, there are still some people who remember the quaint comfort of a horse and buggy. Change is difficult. New things are exciting but also unsettling. If I was not so personally convinced of the benefit that will come to the world from recent technologies, I would probably also be a lot more nervous. But when I see demonstrations like the one I saw today, all I can think to myself is that we have waited far too long for these wonders.

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.
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