Millennials may be the last generation to know so little about their health

One of the problems of the Second Artificial Intelligence (AI) Winter (1987-1993) was that there was not enough data to go around. We did not yet understand the value of “Big Data,” and academia was working on models fueled by “Small Data.” However, now we have entered the era of “Bigger Data Than We Ever Imagined.” We are producing data on the order of exabytes. It is predicted that by 2020 we will use zettabytes. By 2024, yottabytes are in sight.

Hyperscalers are frantically expanding their clouds to meet the demands of the 21st century, and the whole planet will become one giant hard disk attached to, hopefully, a capable calculator. Exascalers, on the other hand, are concerned with “Fast Data”, the application of big data analytics to smaller data sets in near-real-time. They are racing beyond the petaflop to reach exaflop speed by 2021.

Both Big Data and Fast Data have already drastically reconfigured the landscape of the Financial Times Global companies by market cap.

In 2009, there were no information technology companies in the FT Global 500 top 5. However, a mere nine years later, all companies in the FT Global were information technology companies, which took over from big energy. Most importantly, all of these companies are in the process of pivoting towards AI. One of them is Tencent, the first Chinese information technology company to enter the top 5 (admittedly, this only happened for Q1. The company later lost its position after its earnings call in Q2).

However, a new data inflection point is coming, and it will be driven and influenced by the pressing need in healthcare. 2018’s FT Global top 5 has undoubtedly posed two questions: Which industries provide the most data, and which ones need the most speed? They all arrived at the same conclusion: medical and life sciences.


Because in medicine and life sciences, there are power laws at work that dwarf Moore’s Law. In the USA, health data doubles every 73 days, estimated to arrive at a hefty 2.3 zettabytes by 2020. This is a hockey stick scenario that the information technology companies cannot afford to miss. The 3 Super-A’s (Amazon, Alphabet, and Apple) all announced a ground-breaking restructuring of their divisions and far-reaching collaborations (ABC-Amazon, Berkshire, Chase) to jump on the “big and fast data” bandwagon. This could produce surprising ripples in which companies hit the top of the FT’s Global 500 list in the near future.

By 2020, some of the information technology companies won’t be information technology anymore but Life Technology companies, pointing their search and intelligence engines towards healthcare and life science. This poses a legitimate challenge to the current biopharmaceutical and healthcare companies with their dwindling intellectual property assets and lackluster efficiency of discovery. Interestingly, by Q3 of 2018, Facebook lost its spot to Berkshire Hathaway, a well-known investment company focused on reinsurance of the healthcare and life insurance industry. It is entirely possible that, by 2025, most of these companies that merge technology and healthcare could be mandated by antitrust laws to break up into information technology and life technology corporations.

However, the confluence of big and fast will also turn the tables and disrupt who owns what. Today, big and fast data lies in the hands of the privileged few, many in the top 5 or top 10 of the FT Global. However, in 2025, we will be living in a drastically different world from the one we live in today, and individuals will own their own information, in healthcare or otherwise. The first generation that will thoroughly enjoy their personal privileges of Life Data will be Generation Beta (2025 to 2039). These will be the children of Generation Z (with Z we will have exhausted the Latin alphabet and returned to the Greek).

All information, coupled with accessible calculators, will belong to its rightful owner, who will be free to do with it whatever they want: move it, sell it, share it, donate it, add to it, maintain it, remix it, delete it and create it again. New personal devices will be designed to collect, store, encrypt, and manage personal and structured medical data on an opt-in basis. As a result, users themselves will have become “the edge” and consider themselves nodes. All medical data will be sequenced by then. Hence, all medical information will be encrypted and governed by a “smart contract” – contracts as computer code — that will stipulate when and by whom it can be accessed.

New economies will be born, and medical information will become an alternative financial asset, with individuals receiving dividends on their data and due monetary benefit for participation in massive clinical trials and prospective health studies. Individuals will not be passive donors of their information but will be incentivized to be more engaged participants in research, potentially in a planetary medical data project.

Medicine will finally break out of its silos. Individuals will have the choice between “portfolio managers” who will represent the data of their clients to potential patient recruiters in return for a real-time dividend. Individuals will be kept updated ubiquitously with research on their condition. Algorithms — fast data — will continuously monitor new and upcoming trials tailored for the individual, consisting of cohorts with common diagnostics, genetics, environment, family history, and predicted clinical trajectories. The confluence of this data will finally make research understandable to individuals and elusive etiologies less obtuse and accessible.

Gen B will be born in an always-on world with quantum computing algorithms and their own AIs that harness the advances of big and fast data. Everything around them will be autonomous and smart. They will have edited genomes that will make them no longer our descendants but ancestors in their own right, ready to become the first space-faring civilization.

Walter De Brouwer is cofounder and CEO of He is a Belgian-born technology entrepreneur with over 27 years of experience, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, and served as President of RSA Europe from 2006 to 2008. He is a member of TED, curator of TEDxBrussels, and was a distinguished lecturer at the National Science Foundation in 2013. His article, “How the People Are Taking Over the World,” was among Techonomy’s Most-Read Articles of 2014 and was cited by its editors as “perhaps the most philosophical of Techonomy’s top articles” that year. Prior to, he was Founder and CEO of Scanadu Inc., a $57 million venture-backed mobile health company.

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