Vancity Futures: The future of health

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Image: ReWalk / Facebook

Welcome to the latest instalment of Vancity Futures, a monthly column that focuses on the technological changes in the world, what they mean for all of us here in Vancouver, and the wider implications in the world.

My name is Nikolas Badminton and I’m a Futurist and speaker. I have been working in the software, R&D, management consultancy, and advertising worlds for over 18 years. I write and speak about how the world will change in the next five, 10, and 25-plus years. This column will provide new insights to the ever changing world for you.


In the The Future of Health we look at how new technologies are revolutionizing the area of healthcare, and wellness.

Seeing again

Second Sight is a system that helps the blind see again using glasses and an implant in and around the patient’s eye. Here, Larry Hester, a patient whose eyesight has been improved with the technology, and Dr. Robert Greenberg, chief executive officer at Second Sight, discuss the breakthrough of restoring partial eyesight using robotics and explain the technology and business behind the eye implant.

Looking closer to home, we are seeing some exciting developments as well. Imagine being able to see three times better than 20/20 vision without wearing glasses or contacts, even at an advanced age, with the help of bionic lenses implanted in your eyes. Dr. Garth Webb, an optometrist in British Columbia, has invented the Ocumetrics Bionic Lens. This is a highly advanced intraocular lens, one that is capable of restoring clear vision at all distances, without glasses or contact lenses, and without the visual quality problems that have plagued current accommodative and multifocal intraocular lens designs. Webb says people who have the specialized lenses surgically inserted would never get cataracts because their natural lenses, which decay over time, would have been replaced.

This means the world is enhanced for the users of this technology. Sight is so fundamental to who we are, how we perceive the world, and how we can interact and collaborate in the world that this technology is so important for 2016 and beyond.

Mobility, exoskeletons, and prosthetics

Physical disability in 2016 is not being seen in the same way. New developments in technology are changing how the human body can be augmented and how we can operate. In my ‘5 technology predictions for 2016 article, I highlighted the Cybathlon that celebrated new capabilities – and here I wanted to mention two more areas: exoskeletons and prosthetics.

There are people in the world who are unable to walk or stand without assistance. I predict wheelchairs will be a thing of the past within five to 10 years. Exoskeletons will start to become commonplace as the technology advances and the cost decreases. Exoskeletons are also being trialled for work and military purposes: lift more weight, carry it farther, and have less fatigue when operating for extended periods of time. Hopefully this means safer conditions and fewer injuries in the long term thus meaning less disability in thew world. Here is one such technology from ReWalk:

TED speaker Hugh Herr lost both legs in a climbing accident 30 years ago. He is now the head of the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics group, and he talks about his enhanced abilities through incredible technology here:

The effects of this technology go beyond just physical ability. With the ability to move more freely comes mental wellness and overall happiness.

Augmented and virtual reality

I’ve been bullish about AR and VR and its impact on the modern world. Beyond gaming and immersive environments for all we can see that these technologies have real-world application in surgeries, and in mental health.

Imagine if you could see what you need to do before doing it in surgery. Augmented Reality Assisted Surgery (ARAS) utilizes technology that superimposes a computer-generated image on a surgeon’s view of the operative field allowing for reduced risk of mistakes, relaxes the surgeon to allow for better procedures, and a higher degree of success.

Here we have Japanese surgeon, Maki Sugimoto, showing the world’s first holographic patient-based augmented reality surgical navigation:

Another example is the use of Augmented Reality in the surgery of cerebral aneurysms (a very tricky procedure).

Amazing that we can provide this level of vision for planning and undertaking of procedures.

What about mental health. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something that many people have, and still are, dealing with. It can cause anxiety, poor sleep patterns, nightmares, and general ill health. Traumas, from car crashes to abuse to exposure to war, can fundamentally affect how we operate in the world.

A licensed clinical psychologist and entrepreneur, Dr. Brenda Wiederhold, completed the first randomized, controlled clinical trial to provide virtual reality medical therapy for war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). She is also exploring the use of VR in treating patients of all ages suffering from ailments such as claustrophobia to stress disorders.

Of course, there are many other areas of development in healthcare, from human cloning, DNA editing, stem cell research, and the use of human-animal, and animal-animal, chimeras for research. These will all be covered in a later article.

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About the author

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Nikolas Badminton Nikolas is a Brit now living in Vancouver and a world-respected futurist speaker that researches, lectures and writes about the future of work, how technology is affecting the workplace, how workers are adapting, the sharing economy and how the world is evolving. You can see more of his writing at nikolasbadminton.com.
@NikolasFuturist

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