Sunday, August 1, 2010
The iPhone will see you now
The smartphone/PDA revolution is not just about texting, social networking, and managing your work calendar. Nascent advances with regards to processor power, speed, and compactness - the fruit of research and experimentation in the fields of nanotechnology and quantum computing - will in the coming years transform the humble PDA phone into a computational powerhouse whose capabilities rival those of today's most sophisticated desktop workstations. And one of the sub-fields that will be impacted the most will be medical imaging.
Picture yourself visiting your family doctor. You've been vexed by sharp pains in your upper abdomen and back, and are very concerned. Up until now, diagnosing such a dilemma would involve your doc scheduling an appointment for you at an imaging center for an MRI or ultrasound - an appointment which not only is expensive, but also often involves waiting several days (or even weeks) for typically-overbooked imaging facilities to fit you into their schedule. Today, however, your friendly physician's assistant pulls out a credit-card-sized device - which looks suspiciously like an iPhone - and waves it over your chest and stomach. Within second, she presents to you on the device's screen a crystalline image of your innards...........complete with the source of your agony - a pellet-sized gall stone - standing out as a dot of dazzling white against a flesh-colored background.
If this sounds a little too Star-Trekkish to be real - be assured that within a few years (or even sooner) such a scenario will be increasingly common in examination rooms across the world. That is, if the folks at the IEEE and private entrepreneurs such as this company have their way. And the FDA is all for it!
The once-boring field of medical informatics will present new challenges and opportunities of the software engineer of tomorrow. The ubiquity of computing via handheld devices, along with exponential improvements in both computing capability and affordability, will all but guarantee that every doctor's or veterinarian's office in the city will get in on the act. Software engineers who know something about biology, who possess expertise in image processing and computer vision, and who can code applications to take advantage of the PDA-of-the-future's vast computational power will hardly find themselves begging for a job. One can imagine an explosion of upstarts, founded by computer scientists in partnership with MDs, medical researchers, and biologists.
Of course, this explosion will not come without its concerns. Most notably, security will be a huge issue with it comes to the democratization of medical computational devices - particularly in a heavily-regulated field such as medical informatics (can you say HIPAA?). With all this digitized data of people's inmost parts floating around..........literally floating around, since our society is becoming more and more wireless.......one can imagine the ultimate hacking nightmare just waiting to happen. But even this could be seen as an opportunity rather than a threat. Software professionals who can develop stronger and stronger encryption algorithms to thwart the bad guys will, as a result of the portable bioinformatics boom - find their services very much in demand.