Written by: Dr. Mouna Esmaeilzadeh, Expert Contributor Expert Contributors are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise. These articles are written by thought leaders, scientists, and well-known entrepreneurs.
Barely surviving a dramatic journey as a refugee, she is today recognized as one of the most Powerful Profiles within MedTech in Sweden. Dr. Mouna Esmaeilzadeh, known as "Dr. Mouna" (MD. PhD.), is a medical doctor, neuroscientist, entrepreneur, and TV profile who is on a mission to make science "sexy". She has been a pioneer in the field of preventive and personalized medicine, being the personal doctor to some of the world’s most famous business leaders, artists, and royalties. According to Professor Alf Lindberg, previous Secretary of the Nobel Committee, Dr. Mouna is a thought leader and a leading authority within the field of longevity and the future of health. To the Swedish people, she is a respected science communicator and a popular face on TV. She has her own show “Popular science with Dr. Mouna” on Swedish morning TV, covering topics such as science, technology, and the future of health. Additionally, she has covered the Nobel Prize awards for the past years. In this article, Dr. Mouna Esmaeilzadeh shares her insights about current and future game-changers, opportunities, and her positive and optimistic beliefs about the future and the exponential explosion of innovations in technology that we're already seeing.
Reimagining the Future of Health
Imagine if you could change your own conditions for life and death, erasing genes that increase your risk for diseases and halting the aging process in your body, or even replacing them with genes that make you healthy, happy, and just brilliant. Would you? Genetic editing, nanobots in your bloodstream, artificially intelligent doctors,... Technology is changing the world at an exponential pace. But how will the development that we witness in biomedicine, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and big data affect our future and the future of healthcare? These are some of the questions that I reflect upon on a daily basis. And well, the truth is that no one knows. But it is my core belief, that whatever we predict is an underestimation of the future.
Know Your Past to Predict the Future
The last century has been great in regards to progress in the medical field. We have eradicated deadly infections through vaccinations. We have decreased cancer mortality by 25% during the last 25 years. However, this is nothing compared to what we will witness in the years to come.
"Indeed, we are just entering the digitalisation of health and the technological advancements are exponential. Put into simple words, exponential in this context means that the coming century will be equivalent to not 100 years of progress in today's pace, but about 20,000 years."
Just think about what genetic editing will be able to do in regards to cancer. The new fast, cheap and precise tools will, just like in a digital writing document, be able to cut and paste in our DNA, eradicating cancer, replacing it with healthy cells. Indeed, we are just entering the digitalization of health and the technological advancements are exponential. Put into simple words, exponential in this context means that the coming century will be equivalent to not 100 years of progress at today's pace, but about 20,000 years. Considering how our world has changed during the recent 20 years regarding computer usage and smartphones, try to use your imagination to predict the future for the coming 20 years. The point is, that incredibly powerful technologies will be available sooner than you think. And this time, not only in the field of technologies regarding our phones and computers, but in the field of medicine and human biology; technologies such as genetic editing, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology.
Exponential Explosion of Innovations
As a neuroscientist, I know how brilliant the human brain is. But I also know its limitations. One such limitation is its incapacity in thinking in exponential terms. Imagine that you take 30 steps (measured in meters). Your brain can easily picture those steps from here to the parking lot (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc), ending 30 meters away. Right? Now try to imagine 30 exponential steps, meaning that this time, you double the number by each step (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc). Your brain will have a difficult time understanding the magnitude of that trip.
"This is in essence why we are so bad at understanding and predicting future trends. Our brain thinks linearly, while technology moves exponentially."
In fact, 30 exponential steps result in more than 1 billion meters (1,073,741,824 meters) or roughly 26 times around planet Earth. This is in essence why we are so bad at understanding and predicting future trends. Our brain thinks linearly, while technology moves exponentially.
The mismatch between our linear brain and exponential technology can be seen again and again. In the early ’80s, AT&T asked McKinsey to predict how many mobile phones that would be in use by the year 2000. Their prediction was a total market size of 900,000 devices (aware of the many challenges that the industry faced due to bulky devices, high cost of data usage, poor battery life, etc). By 1999, there were 900,000 people signing up for a mobile phone service every 3 days. Another great example of exponential growth is the Human Genome Project. Seven years into the 10-year project, only 1% of the genome had been sequenced. This received lots of complaints from mainstream critics who stated that the project would take some 700 more years to finish. Thanks to advances in DNA sequencing technology entering the exponential curve in 2008, the project was finished ahead of time. And the price began to drop exponentially. 17 years ago, it took more than 10 years to sequence one individual’s genome and cost more than 3 billion dollars, whereas it can be done by hours today and costing around 1000 dollars. Similarly, we will see revolutionary progress within the field of medicine thanks to game-changing technologies such as the so-called genetic scissors and artificial intelligence.
Disrupt or Die Trying
Imagine the financial benefits if you could accurately spot future trends. Internalising the implications of exponential growth can present enormous business opportunities. In fact, the world’s largest challenges are also the largest opportunities. And the harsh fact is that today, regardless of your area of business, you either disrupt or will be disrupted. The same goes for my area as a medical doctor, healthcare, and the future of medicine. The development of an exponentially advancing technology can make the previous paradigm effectively obsolete, out-performing it in both effectiveness and cost. As we all know, within healthcare there is a huge gap between great technologies, and the use of these technologies in the clinical setting. This leaves the whole healthcare industry at risk for disruption. That is also why we see that the most influential players in this field are changing from previously being owned by the hospitals and healthcare institutions to today being led by companies like Apple, Google, IBM, and Tesla.
Human Doctor vs. Artificially Intelligent Doctor?
A common question that I get is: “Will robots replace you as a doctor?” The fast pace of technological development is accelerating every day and artificial intelligence and robots are taking over our jobs. As with all jobs, mine too will be massively affected by the rise and sophistication of artificial intelligence.
"Artificial intelligence will be a game changer. Everything will be put into question. Our mortality. Humanity. And much more."
But how will it feel to go to the doctor and meet a robot instead of a human being? Some years ago IBM’s supercomputer Watson outperformed human doctors in diagnosing lung cancer, where the computer was right 90 % of the time versus the human doctors who only were right 50% of the time. Or take the example of the woman in Japan who got the right treatment thanks to this supercomputer. The woman had a rare kind of leukemia and the team of specialist doctors had given her several treatments without any success, so they turn to the supercomputer, who went through her genetic data and 20 million publications within 10 minutes, coming up with the right treatment suggestion. This is of course something that the human brain is incapable of doing. And this is just the beginning. Artificial intelligence will be a game-changer. Everything will be put into question. Our mortality. Humanity. And much more.
"Will that mean that a smartphone with three powerful medical apps and a few devices will take over my job as a doctor? That is possible but really not that important. The important thing here is to leverage technologies to secure earlier detection of diseases, earlier intervention and more precise treatments."
I am certain that in the future, as individuals, we will be empowered more than ever before to take ownership of our health and be in control of our own life. You will be the CEO of your health. Will that mean that a smartphone with three powerful medical apps and a few devices will take over my job as a doctor? That is possible but really not that important. The important thing here is to leverage technologies to secure earlier detection of diseases, earlier intervention, and more precise treatments. Just imagine a world without diseases and human suffering – a world where every man, woman, and child is healthy and happy.
The World is Better Than Ever
2020 has been a tough year for many of us. COVID-19 has been a true challenge in various ways; physically and financially, but also mentally. The coronavirus has hijacked our brains. Over the past months, your amygdala (the fear center of your brain) has probably been in overdrive. Uncertainty and many unknown factors surrounding the new coronavirus sparks fear. And fear hijacks your brain, promoting irrational actions instead of fully focusing on gaining knowledge and finding solutions to solve the challenges facing us. In fact, although the human brain is fantastic and have created all these amazing things like clean water, electricity, the internet, and so on, it also has a lot of biases and blind spots making us humans very irrational, which sometimes can make us doubt whether we are capable of overcoming the challenges facing us. Thus, although we are in the midst of a challenging pandemic sparking fear, let’s get a helicopter perspective of some facts on where we are today before diving into the future.
"Yet, the threat of scarcity still dominates our worldview. In fact, most people believe that the world is a worse place today."
For the first time in the history of humankind, more people die from eating too much than too little, and more people die from age-related diseases than from infections. Poverty has decreased from 94 % to under 10 % in the world during the last two centuries. Furthermore, we live longer and longer – lifespan has more than doubled since the 19th century. Yet, the threat of scarcity still dominates our worldview. In fact, most people believe that the world is a worse place today. Why is that? We are bombarded with bad news on a daily basis. And the brain is wired such that it gives 10 times more attention to bad news than good news. This has probably been a good thing for our survival in the past when we were living in the jungle and had to protect ourselves from predators. However, since our brain has not evolved as fast as the technology that we have created, we are constantly fooled by our brain to make wrong decisions based on erroneous presumptions. Both on a societal level, as well as in our businesses and our private lives.
"Nevertheless, contrary to what most (90%) people think, the world is really a better place than ever before."
Professor Hans Rosling beautifully stated that most people know less about the world than chimpanzees do. Nevertheless, contrary to what most (90%) people think, the world is really a better place than ever before. And it is all thanks to science and disruptive innovations. Our generation has access to more calories, watts, lumen-hours, square-feet, gigabytes, food miles, megahertz, nanometers etc. than any other generation before us.
"Our brain is great at solving challenges. And in fact, we have the best possibilities and tools ever in human history to solve our challenges. Optimism is thus a sounder philosophical position."
An often overlooked fact is also that time is a resource. Take electricity as an example. Today, one hour light will cost half a second of work time. In 1880 it would cost 15 minutes to 6 hours of work time. In 1750 BC it cost more than 50 hours of work. That is a 350.000 fold time-saving difference from today. Technology is a resource-liberating mechanism. It can make the once scarce the now abundant. When seen through the lens of technology, few resources are truly scarce; they are mainly inaccessible. Our brain is great at solving challenges. And in fact, we have the best possibilities and tools ever in human history to solve our challenges. Optimism is thus a sounder philosophical position.
Rich and Famous
Thus, the gain of these technologies is not only for the rich and famous. Not at all. That is why they truly are game-changers. The exponential character of technology and its fast and accelerating pace will lead to the democratization of all these wonderful technologies. As smartphones have become a natural part of our lives (even for the poor ones), good health and better standards of living will also be accessible for everyone in a near future. We enter an era of radical transformation in which technology has the potential to significantly raise the basic standards of living for every person on the planet. In fact, wireless technology, the internet, and mobile phones have made poor people today having access to more information and better communication than the president of the US did 30 years ago.
The Only Constant Factor is Change
Or, well, not really… To be correct, the rate of change is only increasing… If you are an entrepreneur or a business leader, you surely experience enormous challenges. How can you run your business well when you have no clue of the future and when the changes are moving faster and faster?
"Today, it is not enough to think outside the box. You need to be able to think outside the room that the box is located in."
The single most important factor is the ability to adapt to the fast pace of change. It is hard to overstate the staggering implications of the disruptive advances in genetic modification, augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and other exponentially advancing domains that will unfold in our lifetimes. Businesses, governments, and we as individuals will need to drastically modify our predictive models to adapt to this changing landscape. And it all starts with the ability to change your mindset. Today, it is not enough to think outside the box. You need to be able to think outside the room that the box is located in.
Leadership – More Important Than Ever
Having mapped the DNA code and invented genetic scissors, we will ultimately be able to create and recreate life to our preference. In essence “play God”.
I am an optimist and a dreamer. I believe in a brighter future – but I am also a realist. Having mapped the DNA code and invented genetic scissors, we will ultimately be able to create and recreate life to our preference. In essence “play God”. This will raise a series of ethical questions and I believe that leadership and the human touch will become more important than ever. Because in the end, it is not the technology per se, but our passion, the very obsession about making a difference, and taking action each and every one of us for a better world that matters.
"In the case of artificial intelligence and the future of the human race, many people think that machines are not biased. But machines are trained on human data. And humans are biased."
In fact, it is not the technologies that are the game changers, but us, you and I. In the case of artificial intelligence and the future of the human race, many people think that machines are not biased. But machines are trained on human data. And humans are biased. Just as we teach our values to our children, computers too are prejudiced in a similar way that children are. Computers learn to be racist, sexist, or loving and compassionate etc. from their creators. It all depends on us. So now that you will be able to play God, will you be a game changer making the world a better place? Remember, you are not a passive object in the course of evolution anymore. There are no excuses. You and I create our own future. So let’s create something great!
About Mouna Esmaeilzadeh
Based in: Stockholm/Marbella
Academic career: Medical Doctor, Ph.D. in Neuroscience, MSc in Philosophy
Entrepreneurial career: Founded SciLife Clinic 2009, which she exited in 2016
TV Personality: Regular guest on Swedish Television, covering health, the brain, popular science, and the latest technology. Covering the Nobel Prize.
Professional speaker: frequently invited as a speaker and moderator to international conferences. Spoke and moderated the Brilliant Minds conference in 2019 with distinguished speakers and personalities such as Barach Obama, Gary V, Naomi Campbell, and Forest Whitaker.
Awards: MENSA award of the year 2019 (MENSA is the largest and oldest high IQ society in the world, including the top 2 % smartest people in the world). Dr. Mouna was awarded one of the most powerful profiles in MedTech in Sweden. In addition, she has received many awards such as “The Super Communicator of the Year” and has been recognized with titles such as a “Super talent”.
Anecdote: She knows how to fly an airplane and she has been singing with the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti in 1999.
More about Mouna Esmaeilzadeh on www.doctormouna.com
Can be followed on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram: @doctormouna