Unpredictable events are something that even the best prepared can’t plan for. Awareness and anticipation of these out-of-the-blue events allows for more flexible planning and, in turn, a higher likelihood of a positive outcome. Nassim Taleb coined the term ‘black swan’ to describe these unpredictable, life-changing events and goes into more detail in his recent work to state that companies need to become “antifragile” (i.e., thrive when stressors hit) to protect themselves from black swans of the future.
Historical examples of black swans include penicillin and, most notably, the internet – both delivering life-altering changes to the world, with unpredicted and with unseen consequences to the way we live. The Coronavirus, however, is not considered a black swan despite its huge impact on the world, on the basis it was largely predictable. While Black swans are unpredictable, it is interesting to try to philosophise what might be the next one for healthcare.
Could Brain Computer Interfaces change healthcare as we know it?
The clip below, from 2020, shows how a brain implant allows a tetraplegic patient to control a whole-body exoskeleton using a Brain Computer Interface (BCI). “BCI essentially involves translating human brain activity into external action by sending neural commands to external devices.”
Like something from a science fiction film, the idea of human brains connected to computers (Brain Computer Interfaces, known as BCIs) is not a new idea. It’s currently being examined by a plethora of great minds and has the capability to push healthcare further than we have ever seen or even considered possible.
The next level up of BCIs are those that not only interpret signals from the brain, but crucially fill information gaps and communicate back. Invasive BCIs, as the name suggests, require sensors to be implanted into the brain and with technology becoming so advanced (like nanotechnology) these implantable devices are now miniscule. The smaller the device, the less invasive device, which brings a safer procedure that only benefits patients further.
The possibilities for how that could help patients are endless. Amputees could directly control prosthetic limbs. Patients that have lost the power of speech may be able to communicate through their thoughts. For cognitively impaired elderly patients, BCIs could restore learning and improve memory, attention, and consciousness. This could allow people to live longer and vastly improve the quality of life for many. It might also allow people to gain extraordinary sensory or learning abilities, much like in the film, Limitless. The ethics around developing this kind of technology can get muddy, particularly where there is potential to use AI to enhance brain function – at what point could it change the core foundations of being human?
This emerging technology will almost certainly lead to a new data revolution too, with huge pools of brain data that could be used to understand and predict how humans tick. It will also lead to new levels and needs for data privacy.
This kind of technology could change life as we know it, and as a result the healthcare sector will need to be reflective, open-minded, and imaginative. The reality is, right now the future could be more unpredictable than the present.
Working day-to-day with some of the world’s best known healthcare brands has taught me that the best way to protect a business is to have flexible plans that can be rewritten at any point, whilst leaving room to learn and grow from any business stressors. It’s crucial healthcare brands seek a diverse workforce (across a variety of disciplines), as these technological advancements are set to expand the boundaries of the industry – preparation, flexibility and foresight are everything.