Gore on mHealth and the Reinvention of Life and Death

; Al Gore


March 07, 2014

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Editor's Note:
In this segment of One-on-One, former Vice President Al Gore speaks with Medscape's Editor-in-Chief Eric Topol, MD, about his book, The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change. Mr. Gore explains why the world is in the midst of "The Reinvention of Life and Death," the importance of Twitter, and how the digitizing of people may change the "being" in "human being."

Eric J. Topol, MD: Hi. I'm Eric Topol, Editor-in-Chief of Medscape, here with a One-on-One with former Vice President Al Gore. We're going to be talking about Al Gore's interest in and use of Twitter and also little electronic devices.

I want to first ask you about Twitter. You have 2.7 million followers, and, at one point, according to Nick Bilton's Hatching Twitter, you were going to buy Twitter. Of course, it's flying high in this digital world. What are your thoughts about Twitter? Do you use it much?

Al Gore: My former business partner, Joel Hyatt, and I did try to buy Twitter at a very early stage in its development. We spotted this as a really up-and-coming opportunity. I am actually invested in Twitter now through Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a venture capital firm where I'm a partner.

I think the future of Twitter is just incredible. It has become a global information utility, and the opportunities for them to monetize what they do are also going to grow dramatically. It's all part of the global mind, where people are now connected to the thoughts and feelings of billions of others and to databases that give us answers to almost any question, virtually instantaneously, and through a growing array of sensors and intelligent devices. Of course, part of the development of precision medicine is digital medicine. The current practice of medicine is already beginning to be completely disrupted by the use of all of these information flows to focus on the individual precisely, rather than aggregating people into these large groups.

It's evolving to where individuals can connect with other individuals who are dealing with the same health challenges and where individuals can connect their physicians to the constant streams of data from monitoring devices they're wearing on their bodies and inside their bodies, which is going to be a growing area. It's also where individuals can connect increasingly to intelligent medical systems like IBM's Watson to get diagnoses that, hopefully, doctors will review and be a part of.

Dr. Topol: In the chapter of your book called "The Reinvention of Life and Death," you start with a sentence that I would like to use to end our discussion, because it really captures what's meant by transhumanism. You write, "For the first time in history, the digitization of people is creating a new capability to change the being in human being." What were you thinking about when you wrote that?

Mr. Gore: What separates us from the rest of life as we know it is our unique enhanced ability to make informational models of the world around us by learning from and manipulating those models to gain the ability to change and transform the real world in which we live and of which we're a part. What's most significant about this particular moment in time is that we're gaining the ability through this same methodology to change the physical form of human beings and the mental functioning and nature of a human being. In some ways that's not entirely new. There were antecedents, but what's now emerging is a difference not of degree but of kind.

When you see the insertion of digital devices into the grey matter of human brains, and the connection of human thoughts to the operation of machines, and the crossing of the boundaries between our species and other species, there is a word that comes up over and over again, both in the digital space and the biomedical space and genetic space: creepy. It is one that people use quite a lot. It's important to think for a moment about what that word means. It's not fear. It's pre-fear. People who are familiar with, and sometimes entranced by, the miraculous potential of these new breakthroughs just brush right past that momentary feeling of creepiness and diminish it into insignificance. Often that's the right thing to do. But there are others who say, "Wait a second -- maybe it's not completely irrelevant." Maybe it is a proxy for the processing of information that's been built up over many, many generations and should cause us to pause at least long enough to ask the question, "What are we doing here, and are we sure that it's the right thing?"

One of my predecessors in the US Congress from Tennessee was the famous Davy Crockett. In those days, people used to sign their name with a little slogan. There are deeds in my home county courthouse where he signed his name, "Davy Crockett. Be sure you're right, then go ahead." That's all I'm suggesting.

Dr. Topol: Thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Mr. Gore: Thanks for your kind words, and if you continue to be willing to teach me, I'll keep on trying to learn.


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