In this episode, we speak with Edward Baig, a veteran technology journalist and former USA Today columnist about new technology, Contact Tracing, that will enable America to get back to work as we come out of the grips of this pandemic.
Jeffrey Friedman: Hello and welcome to the RP Health Cast by Rooney Partners. I’m your host Jeffrey Friedman.
As certain parts of our country have reached a plateau in terms of their infection rates from the coronavirus. We’re turning our eyes towards returning to work and achieving some sort of normalcy in our daily lives. But how can we do this? How could we return to work without having a vaccine or without faith that when we emerge from our homes that we’re going to be safe or that we won’t harm the most vulnerable in our society.
Our Guest this week is Edward Baig. Ed was the National Tech Journalist for USA Today for over twenty years and prior to that wrote for business week, U.S news and World Report and Fortune Magazine. Today we’re going to be talking to Ed about ways in which the country can get back to work. We’ll talk about the intersection of healthcare and technology and new applications being developed for contact tracing and we’ll discuss what contact tracing is all about.
We’ll also talk about what sort of privacy concerns are there with this new technology concerns between the public and private sectors and what are employers responsibilities and rights. It’s all very fascinating. New questions and issues that we’re going to have to deal with that we never thought we’d have to deal with.
Ed, welcome and thank you for joining us today.
Edward Baig: Good to be with you.
Jeffrey: Great. Now before we get started with today’s topic, which I’m really fascinated about. I want to talk about you for a second. Now, you’ve been a business journalist for I say forty years, right? And if–
Edward: Yeah, I started when I was seven.
Jeffrey: But for thirty years of that you’ve been covering technology and the developments and over the past thirty years it’s incredible. You’ve witnessed up close and reported on really the technology Revolution. I mean what a career. Now who among like the technology Business Leaders? I’m such a geek about technology here. So I love this stuff. Who have you interviewed and watched and written about that you admire the most and why?
Edward: Well there’s, it’s probably the obvious list of the biggest names that are out there. I’ve talked to Steve Jobs. I’ve talked to Bill Gates. I’ve talked to Jeff Bezos, you know, I’ve talked to people like Richard Branson a lot, you know, a lot of well-known people who I’ve interacted with through the years. You know, it’s not going to surprise anybody that these probably in their names because since in working certainly at USA Today for twenty years and being a personal Tech columnist and reviewer, you know, I was among the initial four people who got the iPhone ahead of everybody else back when it was first introduced. So I’ve interacted with all those leaders, you know, I remember talking to Jeff Bezos when their Kindle came out, the first Kindle. Certainly through the years in talking to Bill Gates about lots of things Microsoft did before he moved on and others as well. Sure, I’m forgetting people but you know, they’re the big names for a reason and their companies have obviously made a huge impact for a reason. Not always good but a lot of.
Jeffrey: I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall with that. And now that we’re on like iPhone 11, 12, 13 that was a while ago.
Edward: Yeah. It’s amazing time flies. But I mean I certainly you know, I was well like a lot of people were by the initial iPhone, but you know, I would be lying if I knew it would have the impact that it ended up having you know.
Jeffrey: Well technology has changed and it’s the adaptation and what’s interesting. So we’re Healthcare podcast. I head up medical communications so that the ability to combine this technology and healthcare technology is a professional passion. So I love what I do. And obviously this is a very timely topic the convergence of healthcare and technology. So given the efforts underway right now to harness a credible digital process for surveilling against the coronavirus. I’d like to develop our time that we have to explore some of the technological solutions being developed and deployed to identify either identify people with Covid-19 or to identify hot spots in different areas. Now last month Google and Apple they announced plans to develop an API for contact tracing.
Jeffrey: Big word right now, contact tracing. I guess that’s two big words. Can you explain what this is and how it works?
Edward: Yeah. Well, I should probably say right off the bat that both Apple and Google would rather you talk about it as exposure notification because contact tracing sounds kind of scary and you know, big brother-ish and all that. But basically what’s going on here is these two big rivals are teaming up Apple and Google and they’re developing as you mentioned solution that is trying to determine basically who has the virus and who might have been exposed by it. Basically, what it’s doing is it’s using Bluetooth wireless technology that were most of us are familiar with to sent nearby smartphones. So if you happen to come in contact with anyone else who might have been exposed to the virus over the past two weeks, you’ll get a push notification that you know you or they’ve been potentially exposed. Now, this is completely voluntary and I’m sure we’ll get into this but you know, there’s all sorts of privacy security questions raised not only about what Apple and Google are doing but about what everybody else is doing here because there are other Solutions, but basically that’s what’s going on here. It’s using Bluetooth to sense nearby smartphones to see you know, if you may have test, you know, if you test positive you enter the results. Hopefully the person other people you come in contact with have done the same and you may get a notification that you potentially been exposed.
Jeffrey: So, there starting out with an app right now. If you download for the phone and it’s obviously completely voluntary that if you download it. But I understand that they’re building into the iPhones and the Google Android phones basically into the operating system. This technology. So, you know, you said they didn’t want to talk about it said it sounded you know in a certain way because it sounded big brotherly. But at the end of the day it is Big brotherly, right? I mean the data privacy protection. That’s yucky stuff. Right?
Edward: It’s very tricky. I mean this is going to raise all sorts of trade-offs. Let’s face it. You know, we’re fighting obviously a devastating virus and people can have to make that decision for themselves. Am I willing to give up some privacy potentially or not? And again Apple and Google have been very good about this in terms of talking about privacy and insisting this privacy encryption and is involved here. We mentioned its voluntary, but you know, there are questions and certainly around the world, you know, we’re seeing efforts in China and elsewhere where the government’s asking people to you know download these apps or what have you so you know back in February and New York Times reported that China began requiring residents in two hundred cities to download this healthcare code app that automatically would tell the locals whether they needed to quarantine or not. Now you can argue both sides of that. Okay, it helps tame potentially the spread of the virus, but what are you giving up? So those questions are always going to be their sort of right, you know, it’s right there. It’s a trade-off.
Jeffrey: Well, it’s a trade-off of the public need versus an individual need.
Edward: Correct. Right? So it’s you know a definitely a public health situation.
Jeffrey: Now, what about even private to private? So if you are a large employer, can you man that mandate this for employee safety concerns?
Edward: That’s another tricky one. I know, you know price Waterhouse has been beta testing, you know an enterprise great system that they’re adding to corporate apps uses Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi to determine sort of as I understand it, you know literally where employees would be within a building in terms of proximity to other employees. That’s a tricky one. You know, I can only imagine that there’s potentially a backlash here again, I think everybody’s sort of in this boat, right? We’re all concerned about this. So I think most people probably will be willing to I don’t want to say give up their privacy, but at least maybe a little bit more wiggle room on some of this stuff. But also at the same time where you know, do you want your boss? Do you want your bosses to know your health history? I don’t think so, you know or are people going to get you know, put in different groups. There’s been efforts about you know different tiers. Well, you’re at risk because you’re above a certain age or you’re at risk because you have some underlying health condition. Do you want your bosses to know all that? You want your colleagues to know all that and then what happens when you leave the building, you know, there’s all sorts of okay, it’s great. You can track me and he’ll corporate headquarters or wherever you are what happens on the subway on the way to work or when you’re out of the building, you know are you know, I don’t think they’re going to trace you there. But you know, it’s just a big can of worms here with a lot of this stuff.
Jeffrey: Yeah, I think you know in terms of baby steps right for we have these electronic key cards that we open our door with that tells management where we are and what doors we went through and so we’ve already given up I guess a little bit of that privacy in terms of the location aspect, but this certainly takes it to the next level.
Edward: Yeah, and that’s you know, what happened after 9/11 things changed, you know, you now have to show your ID when you go into a corporate setting or walk, you know, go through one of these with your key card as you mention or whatever so, you know, that changed our lives and for the most part we’ve all gotten accustomed to that. My question, let’s say some of these, you know enterprise systems are implemented in some way or another what happens when we finally get past the pandemic? Is this going to be permanent, you know, do we go back to the way it used to be or some combination? I suspect we don’t go back to whatever was quote unquote normal before if I’m the full way.
Jeffrey: If the technology is built into the operating system to the phone so we’re not going to take it out.
Edward: Oh, they’re not going to take it out. And your employer is probably going to show you know what, I like knowing where someone so is during the day is he or she really working? I don’t know again. I don’t want to you know, assume the worst here. But again, I think people will be on edge and I think privacy Watchdogs in particular will be keeping a close eye on the stuff.
Jeffrey: Definitely an interesting discussion and debate about your rights as an individual versus the rights of the society. And even take it one step further. You know, I know that there’s a company in Israel called Wave Guard and they’ve taken this privacy or knowing where you are even to the next level. So if you are determined to have the coronavirus you are then supposed to be you know, quarantined. So what they’re doing is they’re tracking kind of correct me if I’m wrong, but they are tracking these quarantine people and real time to ensure that they’re quarantined and they’re not leaving their space.
Edward: That is my understanding anyway, and again I don’t know not close enough to it to know what’s going on in terms of the reaction from from the locals there about this stuff again comes back to this core discussion that we’re having about how much freedom people have or are willing to give up and again, you know, I think people will self-quarantine if they’re in a situation where they need to. But you know, there’s a difference between I guess self-quarantining and being told you better do this. It’s just tricky stuff.
Jeffrey: All for the better good of society. I assume.
Edward: That’s the goal. I mean, we all want to do what we can to keep safe keep our family safe and obviously defeat this thing.
Jeffrey: Absolutely. Now, moving away from contact tracing apps a little bit based on your experience and your recent research and just being in the field. What else is out there in terms of technology or health tech that you find interesting right now?
Edward: Well, I think a lot of the efforts, you know, one of you know, we keep talking about the cell phone and Apple for example has done a lot with the built-in health capabilities of not only the cell phone but the Smartwatch, their Apple watch, you know, they’ve done some interesting heart studies the app. The watch has an ECG or EKG depending upon how you refer to it that can detect a fib, you know, which is basically an irregular heartbeat. It’s got limitations, but they’ve done studies with Stanford as I believe and certainly with Johnson & Johnson. So we’re seeing now this, you know, the stuff that a lot of us wear everyday certainly the phone in our pocket, wearables and such you’ve seen more and more of a link there in terms of health, you know.
So that’s one thing. The other thing that’s going on with the coronavirus in this is not going to come to surprise with anybody is all the Telehealth stuff. You know that people are doing now because you can’t visit the doctor and person unless it’s a real dire situation. So everybody’s doing telemedicine and so we’re relying more and more on technology and personal technology for a variety of health reasons and it’s interesting that it’s being actually coordinated with the studies, with universities and with companies like Johnson & Johnson and others.
Jeffrey: Now being that you’ve been there from the beginning, you know certain apple and the iPhone not the beginning of time.
Edward: Yeah. I was going to say, it wasn’t there with Adam and Eve. I don’t think they have an iPhone then.
Jeffrey: All right. How about Apple and Eve? [crosstalk] You were there for the first iPhone. The acceleration in, I guess the technological advancements have been astounding right so you know that we used to make the analogy of chip sizes shrinking, you know and half every few months type of thing. Can you make any bold predictions of anything that we’re going to see in the future, near future?
Edward: Oh gosh. Well, there’s a lot of certainly interesting efforts being done with everything from artificial intelligence to you know, something called Quantum Computing and all of this. Making predictions only gets you in trouble. So, you know, I will say this I think that you know, I had a story called now a couple of years ago, Pew Agenda Big Study on AI and would the human race basically be better off through artificial intelligence by the year. I think it was 20-30 which isn’t as far away as it once sounded now that we’re 2020. So ten years out would we be better off or not based on you know advances in AI and they asked all these experts, you know from business and Academia and what have you and basically two thirds of the people thought we would be better off but a good solid one-third were concerned. And actually, it ties back into our earlier discussion. They’re concerned about some of the things we’re talking about privacy and security and what are we giving up if anything along those lines so but I think the benefits if I was if they ask me to take that survey, I would probably lean more on the positive side of it as well. I think for the most part we have ways we will work these things out as a society as long as we’re careful and I think you know certainly health and health care will be a big area. It’s already benefiting from advances in AI and some of these other technologies machine learning and whatever and I think that’s only going to accelerate and continue in the future. So and you know, one of the questions that I had asked even talking to IBM about this technology called Quantum Computing, which is basically it’s kind of hard to explain but the shorthand is it’s you know, exponential advances in computing. Could this have somehow help solve Covid-19 kind of before it got to this point. I don’t know that it could but you do question or question in a good way can some of these advances in technology help deal with the future pandemics. And I think there’s real potential there for breakthroughs. But again, there’s no Panacea unfortunately either with technology.
Jeffrey: That’s very true. And I’d love to actually, you know, have you back in a few months and we’ll talk about more of the convergence between technology and healthcare and hopefully before the computers take over.
Edward: Sure and hopefully by then we’ll be in a better state with covid-19 in this situation. We’re all in right now.
Jeffrey: Yeah from your lips. I hope so. So thank you so much for your time. This has been so informative and interesting. So thank you very much.
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