The Future of Healthcare— A Conversation with Walter De Brouwer
By Jodi Smith
Tue, Feb 20, 2018
If Walter De Brouwer is right, it won’t be long before individuals will own and control their own medical data and actually partner with doctors to get better care when they need medical attention. Doc.ai is building a decentralized AI platform designed to be facilitated by the Neuron Network for payments. In December, Doc.ai announced it would use Storj as the data layer for its platform.
In the following Q&A, De Brouwer, founder and CEO of Doc.ai, explains why the company chose Storj, and shares his vision on the future of healthcare.
Why did you choose to partner with Storj and use Storj for your data layer rather than another type of decentralized storage, or even a traditional storage provider like AWS?
I believe that consumers should own their own healthcare data, a belief that is rooted in my advocacy for healthcare consumers. For this to happen, data can’t live in silos. It is necessary to decentralize and to put the data on the edge of the network, on smartphones. That means that we not only have to encrypt the data but also shred it in pieces so we create redundancies so that it’s forever. Otherwise, if you lose your smartphone, you lose all the information. Storj was ready with a solution allowing us to start building right away.
Microsoft announced a blockchain service on Azure. Would you have a concern about working with Azure since it is part of Microsoft, or does it matter where your decentralized, encrypted data layer is coming from?
Decentralization is an evolution, and it will take time. We must embark on that evolution with real people—the crowd. Soon, we will be building a distributed system, so that every node can talk to every node because basically, every node is a server. To put it in military terms, in centralization, if you kill the leader, you have chaos. In decentralization, if you kill the leader, there are 100 new leaders that get into its place. In distributed systems, you’d have to kill the whole fricking population.
So a traditional cloud provider like AWS probably wouldn’t work for your model, since it’s a centralized solution. But beyond that, would you as a developer trust that data stored on AWS is really private?
We believe it is unwise for three or four companies in the world who own the cloud to own all the intelligence—it should be decentralized. In the beginning of evolution, when mammals became human beings, some mammals got a neural net in their head; others did not. Intelligence was not fairly distributed. Now we have a chance to get redistribute it. And we should put it in the hands of people, not in the hands of three corporations.
What do you envision as the future of healthcare, and why is decentralized or distributed storage important to that?
In healthcare, it’s very hard today to get to your data. When you get tests or other medical results, you get general summary reports. When individuals own and control their own healthcare data, they will be empowered by having informed, mature conversations with their doctors. The results will be more diagnosed diseases and better treatments. To get there, all the data silos I mentioned have to disappear. The seller’s market has to become a buyer’s market. Only then will the prices of healthcare go down and the services improve, because that’s what the free market does. Monopolies are never good.
The result of this today is regulation. There’s HIPAA, for example. In a recent interview with Nature, they asked me if I read HIPAA? I said, “No, I am waiting for the movie. Why would I read HIPAA? I am a consumer, and it’s time that as individuals—because we are no longer teenagers of the state—it’s time that we start to emancipate from the state and for the state to accept that the kids have grown up.
Where are you in the development of your AI system? How far away is this future that you see where patients will be able to own their data in this decentralized, encrypted system?
We are opening our network this spring. Are there any hurdles? When you’re helping to define a new market, in fact, a new marketplace, it takes time. There are many hurdles to clear. Healthcare is notorious for being bureaucratic and slow. Also, we did a token sale securities offering (regulation D and regulation S), which means we must wait until users can use our cryptocurrency on the doc.ai neuron network. That’s a process, but one that is well worth the impact we expect on consumers. However, we’re very glad that we’ve worked that hard for the last 18 months to build doc.ai and that people soon will be able to collect all their medical data, start training their own AI, get personalized insights, and participate in data trials. These are exciting times!
**What do you need from Storj to be successful? **
The more farmers the better—it will optimize the downtimes. That takes time too, as we’re all aware. When I say that I work with Storj, I always get asked, “Is Storj really decentralized?” I always answer that complete decentralization is not here yet, but we’re all working towards that objective, and it will be there very soon.