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Computing vs Medicine

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In high school, one of the teachers who I respected a lot (she was also feared by a lot of my peers for being a strict disciplinarian) pulled me aside one day and suggested that I should really consider studying Biology and consider medicine as a future. Although my thinking back then as a 15 year old was not as developed, my heart was set on studying Computer Science and building things.

In hindsight, I’m glad I made the decision to stick to computing rather than medicine. I like things that have a clear explanation and are deterministic in nature. And computing is probably the subject that came closest to it at the time. That’s changing now as we introduce more and more heuristics and non-determinism into computing in the form of AI and ML.

In contrast, even today, I’m constantly frustrated by the field of medicine. The thing that bugs me the most about it is the lack of clear information and progress by trial and error. Yes, we’ve made massive advances in medicine, but the experience of a doctor visit today is still similar to playing the game of Twenty Questions, with the big difference being that no one really knows what the correct answer is. You make an educated guess, and hope that you’re right. If you’re wrong, you take another guess and try again.

However, I believe that Computing and Biology are on a collision course and very soon the two will begin to blend even more. Computing will become more obscure and non-deterministic (without being able to clearly identify what were *all* the parameters that led to a particular decision), and Biology. Medicine will become less so, mostly as a result of the introduction of massive amounts of technology to help collect data, analyze it, and process it.

You can easily imagine continuous monitoring of vitals (almost there with the Apple Watch and Fitbit). You can imagine cheap ingestible sensors which take measurements and perform tests inside our bodies, relay information wirelessly, and then are excreted out of the body. In the future your pill won’t just be chemicals, they will be electronics.

We live in interesting times. The possibilities of human-augmentation are real and fascinating. It’s a time that now makes me regret that I didn’t choose to study both computing and biology. The most interesting breakthroughs in the next two decades could well stem from the people who have a depth of knowledge in both disciplines.

Follow me on Twitter at @Manu Kumar.

  • ras marek

    “The most interesting breakthroughs in the next two decades could well stem from the people who have a depth of knowledge in both disciplines.”
    to carry your point further, i think the first trillion-dollar company (i.e., with a $trillion market cap) will happen at the intersection of computing and medicine.