Aza Raskin: behaviour change is the new blockbuster drug

We kill ourselves more than external factors do. How to we fix that? By understanding what people are doing, and intervening in helpful ways.

What is the big inequality our children’s generation will have to deal with? Health.

By 2020 52% of Americans are predicted to be diabetic or pre-diabetic. 1 in three US citizens are obese, and three quarters are overweight. Half the world is overweight and the other half starving. There’s both tragedy and opportunity in that.

Obesity keeps doubling. A century ago, the things that killed us were external factors like war and infections. Now, it’s us – cancer, obesity, hypertension. These are manageable through behaviour change. These are the health problems of our time. So how do we effect those behaviour changes?

Is it doctors? They haven’t been great at it – but the problem is deeper than that. Only 20% of the time will a second opinion match directly. Based on meta-research, it more likely that the claims of research about medicine are false than true. Peer review only gives a minimum assurance of quality.

This is a crisis-filled moment. Our health is getting worse and worse, and the research that’s meant to be helping is fallible.

Data is smarter than algorithms

Peter Norvig suggested that data is 10x smarter than algorithms. If you can increase your dataset by a factor of 10, you get much better results than improving your algorithm. Most health research is done with a dozen people, or, at the most, a few thousand. That’s not enough.

The rate of drug discovery is falling. Why? Because we’re all different. We’ve found the majority of the drugs that work on all of us. We need more specific drugs.

The quantified self data is useless unless it has meaning. Meaning is useless unless you can act on it. For example: sleep. The Jawbone Up is allowing the company to do mass sleep research right now. One example: women sleep more than men – about 20 minutes more. Freshmen get four minutes’ more sleep than school children. High body mass is associated with less sleep.

Sleep interventions

They sent 40,000 people an intervention on sleep. They got each person to sleep 23 more minutes more. The people who sleep seven hours or more are 15% more likely to feel energetic and 24% more likely to feel beautiful. Germany is the worst sleeping nation in Europe. France sleeps longer and wakes up later…

Prediction: in 20 years, doctors will be data scientist with great bedside manners.

Flickr was incredibly brave. They switched the default of photos to shared, not private. That laid the ground for things like Instagram to come along later. We’re at the same stage with health information right now. We’ve seen a number of companies try to create a health vault – just for you. That’s not useful. You need the network to get the real value.