Conference Review: Intelligent Health United Kingdom (IHUK): How to use technology to improve healthcare (in the UK)
On the 5th of February I spend a whole day at conference (link to IHUK) on how technology can be used to improve the efficiency of healthcare in the United Kingdom. In the UK, healthcare is provided for free (!) to everyone via the NHS, the national health service. Funded by tax money, efficiency is a key to keep all steak holders happy. Politicians (usually) want to keep the national debt levels low, citizens want less waiting hours for their (free) appointment or months/years for a surgery. Doctors want to spend less time filling in forms and more time doing work that matters, i.e. “saving lives”.
There were good things and bad things. First and foremost, it seems like the NHS has signed a contract with a events company called InspiredMinds for at least two years as the conference for next year is already being promoted. Specifically, it is NHSx that signed the contract, where x stands for the new technology arm that the NHS has initiated last year with a nice 250£ of funding. Now, “the markets determine how to efficiently do things”, but the whole conference felt a bit like a “hack”, last minute thing. And considering that it was only announced at the end of the last year, this is no surprise. I assume that whoever is the events and engagement manager at the NHSx had to rush to get a conference going and decided to with a provider (InspiredMinds) who had supposedly already proven itself in a previous engagement, i.e. the same conference but “for the world”, in Basel Switzerland. So, you might ask, why would you host another conference for technology in healthcare when there is already global one? Well, it’s because this was supposed to be for the UK, hence Intelligent Health United Kingdom (IHUK). The acronym was “established” so late that the conference does not turn up on the first Google search page (at the time of writing). But it seemed like they took the whole Switzerland conference and just copy and pasted it into the UK. Is that a problem? No, if it is done well … which it kind of was, but not really.
Now, it is important that I am at the fringe of this conference. I am sure other attendants had very different experiences, so it’s important to read these comments as my comments from purely my perspective with my level of reflection.
The email said that one should be seated by 8.30am to be able to attend the intro event at 9am. I got there at 8.27am and doors still were not open by 9.10am. When they finally did, everyone had to sit through a whole lot of weird mashup videos with music that was too loud and snippets of interviews that were barely audible. When I say weird, like, I really mean weird, not like YouTube meme level weird. It’s 2/3 stock footage of semi-medical settings where each clip is shown for 500ms and all underplayed with pumping music, including a bit of Greta Thunberg (yes! why? I don’t know!). After we had all endured this, there were a bunch of artificial short-speeches by the organisers. Finally, there was a bit more substance. Tara Donnely, the CDIO (Chief Digital Officer) of NHSx, came on the stage and presented the NHSx strategy and what they are planning to achieve in the next years and how. That was good! Then, they had an ITV presenter moderate the rest of the day. She was good, but I don’t understand why you need a TV personality to moderate a conference for doctors, academic and “data scientist”. Not sure if that money was well spent. A talk by Frank Hester was a bit slow, but that meant less cognitive load, so that was nice given there was a whole day ahead of talks. He explained how simple technology already can save millions and it was convincing. Well done. He was followed by Alison Gardner who gave an excellent talk on “Inside the Pandora’s Black Box” an above average researched talk on explainability and more (I assume it’s just her research anyway). It was the best talk of the day in my opinion and I probably should have left then … . But that would introduce selection bias so I stayed the whole day. The remaining talks weren’t bad as such, it’s just that they didn’t really add much to the conversation. At that point it turned more into a collective road show for companies to show off their results, and they really SHOWED OFF, so apart from “I’m so amazing”, there was limited learning opportunity.
In the afternoon, challenge sessions were started which were interactive talks for about 60 minutes which then would break open into drawing board discussion. I only attended one and I assume that if you were really interested in a topic you would have spend your time there well, so I cannot really comment on all the sessions which three were usually run in parallel.
By around 4pm the closing ceremony started and 2/3 had left already so the 1,5k room was quite empty. The conference was considered sold out, but I don’t think there was more than about 1000 people in the room to begin with, so lots of no shows. I know that InspiredMinds has the contract and responsibility to make this a success, but overhyping everything and running those overly emotional short-videos with music way too loud is NOT what doctors or academics or researchers want when they are trying to work. When you do audio-visual animation of an audience, at least adjust it to your audience and do it well, not weird.
I also got a meeting with AI Award team. Of its 250m£ the NHSx has, it is investing 140m£ into technology solutions for healthcare at all kind of different stages of development, i.e. Phase 1 to 4. I discussed some ideas that hover around Phase 0 or -1, but learned a lot about the overall process and might come back in the 1 or 2 years when I have more solid results. So, that sessions was probably the most useful of the whole day.
NHSx, I know you’re probably stuck with InspiredMinds, so I am just going to address my recommendations to them. Everyone at the conference that I met and that was from the NHSx was professional and helpful. Well done! InspiredMinds, cut those videos, cut all unnecessary crap. Add more CONTENT, substantive talks from which people can learn. The challenges are great, keep those going. The food was good, too. Stop the hyping, if you aren’t sold out, so what. Researchers attend, because of the people they meet, not because of FOMO. If you want a quality conference, you need to be aware of the effects of self-filtering. If you throw around with hyped videos, you will get hyped individuals, not genuinely interested people with long-term ambitions. YOU signed to deliver a good engagement conference to the NHSx to YOU NEED TO DELIVER one as such. Maybe the KPIs you were given by NHSx are easy to game and selling out is all you need to do. But if the NHSx requires you to also deliver good content, then you need to step up, because at this rate you are at the danger of loosing people.
Not sure if I will go again next year, TBD.
I went to a weekend conference in China that is supposed to attract and keep talents from abroad (Chinese born and foreign) to bolster the economy for a future where high tech companies dominate the markets. I met people of all kinds, local and foreign, and learned a lot about China’s way of business which will help me navigate the Asian and global markets much, much easier in the future.
I presented the following business model throughout the conference (on a dedicated display and during networking) http://yin-guo.co
More details below:
In October, I got invited to an “Overseas Talent Exchange Conference” at HangZhou in ZheJiang province, China, from 8th to 12th of November. I had applied through some contacts I had established from a student exchange in 2016. The conference was part of bigger effort over several weeks to attract talent, both Chinese and foreigners, from abroad to start (or expand) their businesses in HangZhou. Efforts like these are being established or are common practice in other provinces such as ShenZhen, BeiJing or ShangHai to mention a few. These regions are in direct competition for talents.
Talents are one of the most raw, if not the most raw, resources to build innovation from. The future of any economy nowadays usually depends on its ability to innovate (“science and startups”) and with that to move its economic activity from lower tiers into the third tier of providing services, an indicator of a highly developed nation. For HangZhou, high-tech startups, especially companies in the digital economy are of interest as internet giants such as NetEase or Alibaba both already have HangZhou headquarters.
How to attract talent? A (Chinese) recipe
In the short term, it is very simple: money. All attendants, including me, were given 7000 yuan, about 950USD, to cover transport from Europe or the US. We were housed in five star hotels in rooms that start at 400USD a night. For many a paid holiday, as flights are usually less than 950USD, it’s hard to say no. Nevertheless, inviting and flying over talents is one story, keeping them is a completely different challenge which the government has clearly thought through a lot. Or learned about already from previous projects in other regions.
Their solution: Offer the best environment to these talents for living a good life. Practically, this means establishing amazing private schools. You try to attract talents, which know that “education pays the best interest”, with what’s most important to them: a good future for their children. Many if not all talents have studied abroad and gained significant experience there, also about how to life in different ways. They are highly talented, highly educated and they know their value and what they really want.
By chance I met someone at the airport who is heavily involved with providing the computer science curriculum to a leading private school chain. Apparently nowadays, high school competitions in coding, and if you win a price, are strong achievements one can have his child apply to a University with. Think of it as the equivalent to the spelling bee or violin competition of the last century. Funnily enough, these are mainly held in C#, a relict of an older computer generation, creating a literal parallel world to the West were most educational coding has moved on to Python or Java.
After providing good education to the children of talents, further priorities come into play: safe living conditions are provided by extensive policing and an extensive network of surveillance cameras. Given new advances in facial recognition, these data streams are funnelled together so that tracking of criminals, as determined by the judicial branch, is highly efficient. Furthermore, West Lake, an international attraction, has been highly renovated and genuinely is a nice place, also with its beautiful mountain ranges with well maintained and well lit hiking paths of very accessible difficulty. Air pollution is still a problem, but even that can be solved and the amount of electric cars on the roads, as indicated by green number plates instead of blue, seemingly super pass any western standard.
If I wanted to assure that my economy is competitive in the future, I would go about in a very similar way: attract talent, the most raw ingredient to economic growth, make sure that they stay via providing the best education to their children. Simple as that.
Why get involved with China?
So why should specifically a foreigner get involved with China? Compared to a couple decades ago, China is a strong economy today, the second strongest economy on this planet. Its digital economy has the least friction, data sets and collection are easy and abundant. In terms of relative digital business potential, Europe and USA have to ask themselves a few questions and start doing their homework again. Assuming that the future economic leaders of this world are digital platforms and conglomerates, China just cannot be ignored. Is it too early to get involved? It depends on your current stage of development. Also, whether to get involved with HangZhou is also an important question. ShangHai has been in the game for quite a bit longer, HangZhou might just be a bit late …
Caution: gold rush mentality
There still very much is a gold rush mentality. Whether this is due to these newly released government funding programs, or a general perception of the economy, was not clear to me. Nevertheless, sustainable business building does not seem to be a primary concern. Instead, rushing in as many people as possible is the primary goal, and quality is only somehow assured via offering significant prizes at the high end, which attracts some more serious entities, but doesn’t verify that the low end is also of acceptable quality.
I have also learned a lot about how “business” is “done” in China, which is easier to talk about than write down, feel free to contact me to hear about some anecdotes with crucial learnings before, during and after the conference.
I really could not avoid reading this book. Being at Syracuse University where Trevor Noah is one of the main actors of support for diversity (they hired him or he is volunteering or some combination), every student receives a free edition of his book “Born a Crime” (his birth was crime back then, literally). Then, when I was in South Africa, I knew I had to read the book when I am back. So I did. Having seen the country and its unique role in world history from first hand helped me fill in the missing parts of my imagination of the stories he tells in his book. When he talks about townships and describes them as South African style ghettos, I don’t have to make them up, because I have seen them. When he describes the different races and skin colours, black, coloured, white, Zulu, Xhosa and so on I don’t have to imagine the people, because I have seen them. When he talks about the rich people in South Africa and how they don’t care about the rest of the people and hide behind walls with electrical fences, I don’t need to come up with a fictions picture, I have been, I have talked to them.
The book is definitely unique in many ways. You can feel the Trevor in it through and through. Correct punctuation is of secondary interest, getting Trevor’s style of story-telling across to the readers is primary concern, and it works. The book might as well be a transcript of a late night with some drinks in a bar with Trevor, his friends and most importantly his mom. His mom is the main character in this book really. She is a tough, tough lady and one has a feeling she might be one of a kind all of South Africa. She lived her life during apartheid as if apartheid did not really exist. She fought a system in the ways most people don’t even dare thinking about. It was risky, many, many times things went sideways. Like literally, for example when they jumped out of a bus with people that we’re going to kill them. They jumped out of the van sideways to escape.
It is just one of many great stories in this book that seems so unbelievable that, when they are combined with Trevor’s incredibly funny story-telling almost make them look made up. But they are not. There are about 17 chapters and all chapters built up to the last one. You could really just read the last chapter and it would explain a lot to you. But you would miss the great stories in the 16 chapters before. Stories about growing up in South Africa, apartheid, the townships ghettos, school in South Africa, his entrepreneurial spirit and his relationship to his Swiss father.
If you do make your way to South Africa, instead of taking the travel book, you might want to read Trevor’s book instead. You will probably learn as much about the country as in many other tour guides. The real South Africa by real people.
Due to the great generosity of the people at the 2019 Machine Learning Summer School in South Africa, I was able to attend two weeks of amazing lectures on all things machine learning. On top of all of that I also got see many parts of South Africa, get to know the people, their history and the culture. I also made many new friends (Hi there if you’re reading this!).
Let’s go through it day by day:
Day 1: Take off (6th of January)
I have a 11 hour flight in front of me. I am very lucky having got a seat in premium economy. I also accidentally used the business class toilet which is right in front. I was surprised there were so many freebies, so I took all of them, one each. When I got out, the business people started at me angrily when I walked back to my seat. It’s a good start to an 11 hour flight.
I met a very nice lady sat next to me. She has been travelling to South Africa for almost 30 years and I could not ask for a better introduction to a country I did not do much research on at all. We even end up going on a Sunday trip down towards the Cape of Good Hope!
Day 2: The First Real Day
I just woke up and had some breakfast. The view outside is nice. I only got 3 hours of sleep I think, so I am already looking forward to my bed tonight. I still don’t know where I will be staying! Also, last night I passed Yaoundé, my brother in law’s hometown.
We are going to land very soon and then I will rush to the first lecture. The lady sitting next to me wants to share a taxi there which is great! I am landing at 7.50am so 10 minutes before the introduction. I end up being a bit late, but at least I maximised my time with family back in Munich!
The day went by rather slowly, because I was so tired. At 3pm I had a serious low, almost falling asleep thrice, so I just bought a coffee. It works wonders when you are not used to it!
The last event was the panel on causality, so I had some questions prepared. I had my hand raised from the first minute to the last but being seated so far to the off-side the microphone people just did not see me. The panel itself was interesting and gave me a lot of confidence in the direction of my reserach, because they were all quite open about how they also themselves do not have a clear direction for many of their research endeavours.
Academia is a very weird place. Many people here are slightly socially awkward, but there also some show offs dressed in brand clothing, leather shoes and literally swinging their rental car keys around to make sure everyone knows they make lots of grant money. It seems all a bit of a circus at the moment and I am missing genuine interaction, but I am sure I’ll eventually filter through the noise! I will also definitely skip some sessions. I can’t do two weeks of sitting in a windowless room from 8:30 to 6. No one can.
Day 3, 8th Jan: Getting into the rhythm
We got picked up in the morning at 8am from our temporary hostel stay for the sponsored attendants. I had a burger the night before at a small restaurant that which was quite nice. It was the second day of lesson and it was my favourite set of lessons! I also got seats in the middle which gave me a better view of things and did not have to break my neck!
Water resources here are super low. The government has started measures to reduce water usage and apparently it has halved over the last year which is impressive because it seems like it did not have any big impact on daily life. They have water faucets that spray instead of run like a waterfall which doesn’t make much difference for washing hands but saves so much water! To take a bath you also have to get the plug from the reception and explain to them why you need a bath. Really nice to see that societies can adapt if they want to.
Eventually I also meet my new roommate who, probably not by chance, is German. We got dinner at the restaurant, which is really nice! It is also quite cheap, like 4£ for a burger! Finally, I went to bed early to have enough sleep for gym in the morning.
Day 4, 9th
I got up 6ish o clock and went to the gym, rowing 30 minutes. I had breakfast on the way back and the fruit selection is amazing. Then quickly into the shower and get ready for the next lectures. There are about three fish lectures on causality and people seem to get really excited about. I was going to go swimming but I still felt quite ill all day. A Capitec Bank employee, one of the sponsors, was nice enough to drive me to a mall to buy a SIM card which is great! So I finally could properly use the internet, yay!
In the evening, I ordered a pizza, eating it some other attendants at the evening restaurant.
Day 5, 10th
I had not enough sleep to do early gym so I moved it to lunch time. I did get gym into my schedule before lunch and met a student from Cameroonian at lunch! I spend all afternoon writing my ACM essay, submitted it and then went straight to dinner with another attendant I met who I will go with on a safari next weekend most likely!
Dinner was delicious. Now I am back in the room and probably will do some life admin. It never stops.
Day 6, 11th Jan
Today was Friday and everyone was looking forward to the weekend. Friday. Friday. Gotta catch my friends, we are going to Cape Town tomorrow!
I went to the first lecture but my cold still got me down quite a bit. I went back to my room after late morning coffee snacks and submitted some stuff and had a call. I came back for the two causal inference sessions at 3pm, but everyone was already so sleepy.
Right when it had ended it started raining so I waited a bit with some people then walked back to my room. No gym or swimming today.
Day 7, 12th Jan
Today was excursion day! We got a bus to Waterfront in Cape Town and people there could decide to do whatever they wanted. The bus drivers that got us to cape Town and also were going to bring us back were nice enough to drive some people to Table Mountain. So my friend Ayush and I then said we wanted to go to the city centre. So they offered to drive us there as well, after dropping off the others at the Cableway to Table Mountain. Ergo, we got a free ride around Cape Town! The view as stunning, but because I actually went to Table Mountain the next week, I will skip this part.
Inside Cape Town we walked through a park there which also has a statue with Cecil Rhodes who is a very controversial figure in the history of Africa. He also set up a scholarship at Oxford. Lots of explosive material! I also introduced Ayush to geocaching and we fortunately also did find the first geocache we headed for. We then went into a museum on a district which was declared “all white” sometime in the 1960s. Apparently, there was a time when the government used to do that. They lady giving the tour was apparently a real life survivor of that part of history. Her mother died of “heartbreak” the moment she had lost a 20 year fight to keep her home. She also has 11 siblings which is unimaginable for Europeans. We had some overpriced snacks across the street and then just went exploring, no GPS whatsoever.
Straight away, we stumbled upon an alley which had all cuisine of the world — crossed with Indian food: Indian-Chinese, Indian-Turkish. It was hilarious and Ayush, a native Indian himself, had to taste a lot of it. He got so much we packed it up for the homeless, but the first guy we meet took both boxes and did not share with the guy next to him. That was quite an experience. So we kept walking. The city centre is quite run down and they have “city policy” everywhere, because of all the crazies around there.
We eventually ended up in the business district where it was just skyscrapers and empty streets. We headed back to the Castle to meet the others via the train stations which was surprisingly new. There was not a single white person using the trains which is what we had been told before about already. So we moved on, past the makeshift bus station and eventually ended up a the Castle of Good Hope, an hour early. The tour there was very well done and interactive.
While others had their dinner at 7ish, I took an Uber to see a friend my father. She was really nice and had her University friends for a BBQ over. There were about 25 people and apparently most of them were involved in a nature protection society back then. I had good chats about bioinformatics, machine learning and philosophy of science. A friend of her then drove me home, where we witnessed the tour bus take off the fence in front of the hotel as a last act of the evening!
Day 8, 13th Jan
I was going to go on a hike, but I had to rest my foot and I was also still a bit ill. I had had a call from the lady that sat next to me on the plane, and she offered a small tour. I called her back and so I was on for a drive-around for the afternoon. First, we went to a bi-weekly antiquity garage sale, where I got Irene something nice and then we went on to Kalk Bay where we had some fish-and-chips style food: I obviously ordered calamari! I learned a lot about the 30 years of visits they have done to South Africa. Quite impressive.
Day 9, 14th Jan
Just lectures really
Day 10, 15th Jan
Also just lectures I think
Day 11, 16th Jan
Impromptu Table Mountain Trip!
Some people decided to get an Uber to table mountain which is 1 whole hour away! A taxi for an hour! But because there was 6 of us, we were able to cut the costs to 10€ per head for a return trip which is very impressive. The cableway itself was twice as expensive, but very worth it. On top, we talked around a very well maintained set of paths and saw magnificent views!
We found two geocaches, also the most visited geocache of Africa which is super cool. So I have both the most visited in Canada and Africa now.
We then watched the sunset and went back. Nothing big from then onwards …
Day 11, 17th Jan
Dinner in the evening at Super Expensive Golf Club
Day 12, 18th Jan
People left fairly fast after the last lecture. It got very empty on the hotel grounds. I went to the gym and has some dinner eventually! I also gave my new friends one of the little torches I got, and they loved it. But I feel like it only leaves a mark when you know the people. Torches for stranger apparently does not work that well.
Day 13, 19th Jan
Rafael, who I meet at the conference, and I started our Trip to the safari place. We stopped first in Stellenbosch to buy some present. I got some slingshots and then went on to a jewellery place where the founder is apparently a very distance cousin of my mother. The lady at the counter did seem to know the story I told her my father had send me so that was good fun to surprise people that way!
We then drove 2 hours east to the reserve which is basically just a resort in the middle of nowhere with a massive walk or rather drive in zoo. The food was good! We then relaxed a bit at the pool before our first safari tour. It was just a massive zoo. It’s nice, but it is a one time thing! We got back and exercised a bit, and I swam some laps. But I did realise that I had not given my brain a break in years. A literal break from work. Just do nothing. Not do something for the sake of a goal, but just do something for fun. Even my travel trips had turned into checklists lately which is short term fulfilling, but it is not a break. So I learned that and that is good!
Day 14, 20th Jan
We had an early morning safari but it was a drag really. Breakfast was okay and we were back on the road. A friend of my father recommended a different route which had a really nice view over the West Cape area and then we also went to recommend wine estate called “Spice Route” where I got some nice gifts. We then went straight to the Hotel.
Day 15, 21th Jan
Check out, Check in, Board, Plane home!
Just wanted to share today that I am really grateful for the people at the MLSS to support my stay at their Stellenbosch event in January next year, more here: https://mlssafrica.com
Bernhard Schölkopf: Topic: Causal Discovery (Part 1)
David Blei: Topic: Variational Inference: Foundations and Innovations (Part 1)
Arthur Gretton: Topic: Kernel methods for comparing distributions and training generative models
It is going to be crazy, causaly at least.
"AI is currently split. First, there are those who are intoxicated by the success of machine learning and deep learning and neural nets. They don’t understand what I’m talking about. They want to continue to fit curves. But when you talk to people who have done any work in AI outside statistical learning, they get it immediately. I have read several papers written in the past two months about the limitations of machine learning." Judea Pearl
I have been following Judea Pearl's work and I am excited to finally see him publish a book on this topic. I have been observing these issues at the lower end of machine learning for years now and it is amazing to see someone at the very top confirm them in this book.
This summer, I will be starting a research reading group as well as a corporate entity to help change this outdated status quo. If you want to be involved, let me know. The work will focus on three frontiers: public research, pro bono advice and private consulting.
The bubble has reached instagram models and farmers in India. It was time to sell now and create a war chest for when buying begins again after the bubble. I have sold all my BitCoins and made a confident 100 fold profit on it. That is more than anyone can ask for.
This articles is part of my world trip. Read more.
On my way from Shanghai to Taipei, I had booked a long layover in Hong Kong, decreasing my flight costs and giving me 40€ and 18 hours to spend there. As I had not managed to get on one of the famous hiking trails last time, I took the good weather as a change to make it an early morning hike. The night before, I had arrived in my city centre hostel just about in time to get some 6 hours of sleep to take the first bus in the morning to make my way to the Dragon Back Tail, the most popular of the trails. After missing my stop, I had to get back on the other bus back. The bus driver gave me the typical confused-tourist look, but that was fine.
Arriving at the trail, I noticed that I was the first to embark on the hiking adventure that day as there were plenty of spider webs for me to pass through. I was armed with 2 litres of water and some sandwiches from Hong Kong and even China. Expected to be a 3 hour hike, I was surprisingly fast and finished after only two hours. On my way, I only passed on Chinese couple and a two buddhist nuns from South Korea who were overly excited to meet me. At the local muslim cemetery, I read a book at a scenic gazebo.
On my way back and then to the airport, I noticed quite some police presence. Only later at the airport I realised that this morning, Xi Jing Pin had traveled to HK to swear in the new governor. Luckily, it did not affect any of my travels and I was also happy to have found a geocache at the Airport! Soon, off I was only my flight to Taipei, starting my real summer adventure of 2017!
There is no shortcut to happiness.