Monthly Archives: February 2016

Artificial Intelligence Applications in Medicine

Robot holds medical vial.I am currently enrolled in a MOOC on machine learning and am intrigued by the integral role computers played in decoding DNA sequencing and their ongoing role in medical research. Machine learning focuses on learning through repetition, pattern recognition, and algorithms as opposed to programmed instructions. The aim is for computers to learn from previous experiences and add that knowledge to a growing database, much as humans do. As that database grows, machines can take on even more complex tasks.

DNA decoding is just one application in the field of machine learning. I am curious about what other areas, particularly in medicine, will benefit from these algorithms. Can a computer, or group of computers, do cheaper and faster diagnostics? It turns out others are asking these same questions and exploring the benefits and applications of machine learning. What are the benefits for us as patients and how does it change the health care field?

Automated Sampling

As part of a drive to simplify procedures and cut costs, startups such as Theranos developed automated procedures for blood tests. Their procedures and equipment are proprietary but involve sensors and computer algorithms to augment or replace human processing. The cost of their tests is much lower than traditional tests and a patient can get quicker results. As of this writing, the company is under intense scrutiny to reveal their specific technologies and processes. Federal regulatory agencies, particularly those providing Medicaid, are trying to ensure the testing process is safe and the results are accurate. As with any new technology or process, the consumer must go in with eyes open and understand the risks involved. One question to ask is how much do I trust the results? If patients can stop by a drugstore for a blood test, how and when do physicians get involved? With ready access to testing, will patients become more involved in their own health care and treatment decisions?


In a recent article on digital diagnoses, it is estimated that radiologists, at least in Australia, review seven times more cases than they did five years ago. As with a pathologist providing lab analysis, all of these reports rely on pattern recognition and they take a great deal of skill and experience to do well. As we make advances in machine learning and artificial intelligence, computers can take over some of that workload. If I were a radiologist, I think I would welcome the chance to offload some of my tasks. I am not suggesting that these highly trained medical professionals will be replaced, but there is room for assistance through technology.


I wrote a blog post last year on robots in the surgery and I asked if you would trust a surgeon-directed robot to operate on you. What if the human-robot team had a higher success rate than a human? These same questions apply to medical tests read and interpreted by a computer. Would you trust the diagnosis more or less than if it came solely from a highly trained doctor or technician?

To me it comes down to a matter of trust. Do I trust a machine to take on some of my tasks and perform some of the tests that were previously done solely by humans? With machine learning, computers improve through iterations and experience. In other words, they learn from their mistakes and successes, just like we do. This is a brave new world. Are you ready to embrace it? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Leadership in a Connected World

Key figures in a connected crowd.In the AIM Program’s Information Systems and Management course, we talk about leadership and management. Are they the same thing? Can someone be a good leader but a terrible manager, or vice versa? These are good questions. I have been studying how leadership has changed in the last 100 years as we shifted from leaders who oversee one or more factories in a region to leaders who command large global enterprises. In the past, a manager could walk down to the factory floor and talk with each employee, but modern telecommunications have allowed us to create large businesses and to manage those businesses from a distance. What original principles of leadership remain the same and which have changed?

The Personal Touch

I have read autobiographies of Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, Harland Sanders, also known as Colonel Sanders, and Dave Packard of Hewlett-Packard. As they recount the early days of their businesses they all talk about knowing and interacting with the employees. Part of their leadership style was personal contact, which allowed adjustments to the business model based on employee feedback. According to the Wal-Mart website, the company now employs 2.2 million associates worldwide. How does a leader manage so many people in a geographically dispersed firm?


One of the answers is focused networking through the use of technology. Even though large organizations still use traditional organizational charts, it takes a long time for a complaint to make it through 10–12 layers of management to be heard and acted upon. This is the explicit organization as depicted on the chart. In reality, there is often a parallel, implicit organization that everyone knows about but which is seldom put into writing or a visual. There are touchstones in the organization who “know the right people” and can bypass the traditional structure to get things done. Author Malcolm Gladwell refers to these people as “connectors.” Employees quickly identify touchstones and rally their support in championing new ideas or settling a grievance. Think about how long it takes to disseminate information in your organization and how long it takes to make a low-level decision that for some reason requires multiple signatures. Could you employ this implicit structure for sharing information or collecting feedback quicker?

Leadership in The 21st Century

I believe it is important to recognize this alternate organization and utilize it for disseminating information. We can always do a one-to-many announcement but it is not always effective, nor is it well-received. Touchstones are likely to relay messages quicker. Marrying this network approach with social media channels allows us to still be effective leaders even though we are now steering an ocean liner instead of a bicycle. Such methods are not meant to subvert the traditional organizational structure but to provide a quicker and more effective means of communication through modern technology and networking. Those leaders recognize that it is not enough to have a large number of connections but they also need to be linked to the right people to institute change and move the organization forward.


Do you know the connectors in your organization? Are they in your network? Are you someone others turn to? It is important for leaders to make use of the implicit network just as we work the traditional structure. It is getting harder to effectively lead thousands, if not millions of employees and we need all the advantages we can get. Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Tech Matters in Emerging Economies

Emerging nations often have the advantage in infrastructure deployments and upgrades because they have no legacy infrastructure to replace: they can just start from scratch. Legacy infrastructure can stifle innovation because of real and perceived barriers. In researching this subject, I questioned how much technology can help emerging countries that may struggle to house and feed their citizens and/or refugees from nearby countries. I would like to spotlight the work of Nethope, which aims to expand tech to lift nations from poverty and provide opportunities for growth through innovation.

How Much Tech?

In 1989 my wife and I toured Egypt and we traveled through a small village with basic concrete houses. We watched as the residents made their way to fields in the morning to harvest the crops. In the evening they returned to homes that had no electricity, modern lighting, or communications. They filtered water from the nearby Nile. This was their daily routine. I compared that with my role at the time as a computer administrator and realized the absurdity of my work in contrast to this simple everyday life. They had no use for the work that I did, which would not help move that cart to and from the field and would probably not increase their harvest or enhance their lives. My skills and knowledge were useless to them.

Should we concentrate on bringing technology to impoverished nations and villages? How would technology benefit people whose lives revolve around providing basic needs? Can it help in providing clean water, basic health care, communications and education? Which problems are we trying to solve through innovation? These are questions I no longer assume I know how to answer.


Nethope is a non-profit organization dedicated to matching tech firms and individuals with non-governmental organizations to apply innovation to solve problems in emerging nations. Much of their focus is on wireless connectivity and building alternative energy sources to power the infrastructure. They have provided portable cellular hot spots for Syrian refugees to connect them with family members back home and with aid organizations. It also might enable young people to continue their studies, although sporadically, through online education programs.

A similar project established internet connectivity in a refugee camp in Kenya. Refugees flooded there to escape famine, drought, and conflict. This camp has become the fourth largest population center in Kenya and is a temporary home for thousands. As in the Syrian refugee crisis, it is hoped that the youth in particular will be able to continue their education through remote courses. In another area of Kenya, wi-fi hotspots were established with unused television whitespace. This might give villagers an opportunity to improve their lives through education and expanded business opportunities.


One of the services provided by Nethope is technology coordination between many non-governmental aid organizations. Each organization tries to aid in various ways and sometimes they end up stepping over each other, particularly in areas such as technology infrastructure. Nethope and their partners provide expertise and coordination, whether it be a temporary crisis or an ongoing project. This approach allows the other aid organizations to focus on their strengths providing for basic necessities.


Has technology become a basic necessity or is it still a luxury? In an emergency, where does it fall on the list of priorities? I live near an earthquake fault and try to be prepared for a potential disaster. On the one hand, I can’t eat my smartphone, but on the other hand it would come in handy should my house suddenly become an island. I applaud the efforts of Nethope and other organizations that share their expertise with those in need. It is good to provide basic necessities and basic communications. I wish them well on their quest.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.

Automotive Education of Tomorrow: Car or Computer?

Man uses a laptop computer to examine a car engine.Automobiles are becoming more reliable but are much more complicated to diagnose and repair when they do fail. With the introduction of hybrid, electric, semiautonomous, and autonomous vehicles, computer science and networking skills will be just as important to a technician as the traditional mechanical training. Let’s explore the training required to care for these high-tech vehicles.

Car or Computer?

My son is an automotive technician specializing in a high-end brand. My background in computer and information systems and his in automotive repair are starting to converge and we find ourselves talking about shared interests like networks, fiber optics, downloading patches, and diagnosing computer failures. In a Los Angeles Times article, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla, remarked “We really designed the Model S to be a very sophisticated computer on wheels. Tesla is a software company as much as it is a hardware company.” Teslas are designed to be upgraded and gain new features through wireless patch updates. In other words, they can evolve. Are new vehicles more car or computer?

Chips for the Road

Chip makers such as Intel, Xylinx, and On Semiconductor have ventured into automotive applications to supply the industry with controllers for lighting, infotainment systems, on-board computers, and sensors. These partners are using their expertise to help drive the industry’s advances.

New Sensor Technology

Technology company Nvidia announced earlier this month that they have developed the “Deep Learning Car Computer” which will provide sensors and processors to power a semiautonomous vehicle. The computer, which they claim has the processing power of 8 teraflops, or the equivalent of 150 Macbook Pros, sits in a package the size of a tablet. The system is designed to provide a 360-degree view of the terrain and landscape around a vehicle and respond faster than a human when it detects any hazards such as a large animal, pedestrian, or ball rolling into the road followed by a child. Deep learning means that the computer is continuously adding to its knowledge and detection capabilities. Nvidia is partnering with Volvo to put 100 semiautonomous vehicles on the road in Sweden in 2017. Again, who will be repairing such vehicles? Yesterday’s mechanic or tomorrow’s technician/computer science major? What does that education look like?


I am starting to see more bachelor degree programs in automotive technology. These often combine courses in physics, electronics, computer systems, and drive train and engine repair. I still think there is an unfilled niche for the type of training in automotive engineering that would be a hybrid for systems designers and repairmen. Such an approach would enable the specialists to cross back and forth as their career ambitions change. It would also provide a more holistic view of design and repair and hopefully promote design for reparability.


In 10 years, whether we are driving cars or they are driving us, they will still need to be repaired. A technician will need to be well-versed in hardware, software, and networking. Troubleshooting will be much more complex as we deal with multiple interconnected computer systems. Just as I advise my son to keep up on the latest technologies, I would encourage anyone to look to the future as they make their educational plans.

Are the days of the shade tree mechanic gone? What kind of education do you think it will take to repair the vehicles being introduced now? Let me know your thoughts.

Author Kelly BrownAbout Kelly Brown

Kelly Brown is an IT professional and assistant professor of practice for the UO Applied Information Management Master’s Degree Program. He writes about IT and business topics that keep him up at night.