Starkey Hearing Technologies recently launched Halo, a hearing device that syncs with iPhones and iPads.
The technology, the company says, doesn't just amplify hearing; it also allows users to listen to music, sync movies, receive phone calls, and chat over Facetime. It allows for geotagging according to specific places -- so, for example, it calibrates itself to the volume of a user's favorite restaurant or coffee shop. It joins devices across wireless networks. It's a medical-tech answer, basically, to the broad aspiration of the connected home.
A Q&A with David Blumenthal, a physician and former Harvard Medical School professor. The health-care system is one of the most technology-dependent parts of the American economy, and one of the most primitive. Every patient knows, and dreads, the first stage of any doctor visit: sitting down with a clipboard and filling out forms by hand.
Blumenthal was from 2009 to 2011 the national coordinator for health information technology, in charge of modernizing the nation’s medical-records systems. He now directs The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that conducts health-policy research. Here, he talks about why progress has been so slow, and when and how that might change.
“From the patient’s perspective, this is a no-brainer,” he said. “The benefits are substantial. But from the provider’s perspective, there are substantial costs in setting up and using the systems. Until now, providers haven’t recovered those costs, either in payment or in increased satisfaction, or in any other way. Ultimately, there are of course benefits to the professional as well. It’s beyond question that you become a better physician, a better nurse, a better manager when you have the digital data at your fingertips. But the costs are considerable, and they have fallen on people who have no economic incentive to make the transition.”
Asked in the broadest sense, what difference will better information technology make in health, Blumenthal responded: “Fundamentally, every medical record is a tool for collecting information: the information a physician collects when looking at you in a physical examination; the results of lab tests. The constant automatic information collection is going to increase, whether it’s your phone monitoring your heart rate or your scale sending information about your weight to your health provider, or the contact lenses Google wants to market that measure blood glucose levels.”
The United States discreetly supported the creation of a website and SMS service that was, basically, a Cuban version of Twitter, the Associated Press reported. ZunZuneo, as it was called, permitted Cubans to broadcast short text messages to each other.
At its peak, ZunZuneo had 40,000 users. And what government agency made ZunZuneo? It wasn’t the Central Intelligence Agency. No, it was the US Agency for International Development, USAID, working with various private companies, including the DC for-profit contractor Creative Associates and a small, Denver-based startup, Mobile Accord. T
he company’s not in the discreet social network game anymore; now it surveys countries in the developing world by SMS. As I started piecing together Mobile Accord’s past -- and that of the State Department that encouraged and hired them -- I found that a project like ZunZuneo wasn’t out of the ordinary at all. As ludicrous as the phrase ‘fake Cuban Twitter’ might sound, projects like ZunZuneo were meant to be a major focus of US diplomacy. If it sounds like a risible plan, now -- as it does to some commentators and, apparently, at least one Democratic senator -- that only shows how much has changed since the Arab Spring was still blooming.
The story of ZunZuneo foreshadowed, too, developments that would come. Who did ZunZuneo benefit most of all, eventually? Cubacel: The Cuban government’s state-run mobile monopoly which owned the physical infrastructure through which ZunZuneo messages traveled. USAID, in trying to harass the Cuban government, wound up financially supporting it.
[Commentary] Back when we first started getting reports of the Chinese breaking into US computer networks for espionage purposes, we described it in some very strong language. We called the Chinese actions cyber-attacks. We sometimes even invoked the word cyberwar, and declared that a cyber-attack was an act of war.
When Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency has been doing exactly the same thing as the Chinese to computer networks around the world, we used much more moderate language to describe US actions: words like espionage, or intelligence gathering, or spying. We stressed that it's a peacetime activity, and that everyone does it.
The reality is somewhere in the middle, and the problem is that our intuitions are based on history. Eavesdropping isn't passive anymore. It's not the electronic equivalent of sitting close to someone and overhearing a conversation. It's not passively monitoring a communications circuit. It's more likely to involve actively breaking into an adversary's computer network -- be it Chinese, Brazilian, or Belgian -- and installing malicious software designed to take over that network. In other words, it's hacking. Cyber-espionage is a form of cyber-attack. It's an offensive action. It violates the sovereignty of another country, and we're doing it with far too little consideration of its diplomatic and geopolitical costs.
[Schneier is the chief technology officer of Co3 Systems, a computer-security firm]