Dispatch from Chicago Techweek

It’s been a week-long celebration of the Chicago startup and tech scene. A kick-off party and boat cruise, to office tours of Uber, SproutSocial and Vibes, to name a few. It’s hard not to get swept up in the energy and excitement of Chicago’s startup scene. Parties and tours aside, the meet of Chicago Techweek is a three day conference, divided into Summits.

  • DevSummit
  • Edu&Work
  • Elevate
  • FashionTech
  • Finance 2.0
  • Future of Media
  • InfoTech
  • SocialInnovation
  • Startup
  • WellTech

Most of the action started late in the morning yesterday, so I wandered into the WellTech Summit, and found billboards displaying local startups geared toward addressing some issue in healthcare or medicine. One in particular was Healthy TXT. It’s stated goal is to “improve health with relevant communications from trusted sources – delivered where people are today, on their mobile devices.” So that new treatment regimen you just reviewed with your doctor, and promptly forgot once you got to your car? Now your doctor and can send you a text message to remind you. I found myself wondering about medical malpractice cases, and medical malpractice insurance implications, for using something like Healthy TXT. 

That afternoon, I saw bits and pieces of presentations. One, from Scott Wyatt, Managing Partner at NBBJ, which is one of the world’s largest architecture firms. Wyatt has overseen the building of corporate headquarters for some big names like Amazon, Google and Tencent. He talked about architecture and the modern work place, giving a humorous history of the office cubicle and argued that architecture was the problem because it failed to take into account the emotional aspect of being human. There was low Emotional Intelligence, though he provided some signs  and examples that this is changing, and has changed in some industries. This quote stood out:

What you choose to do as a vocation or profession, where you choose to do it, all have an impact on your health and well-being. He used the example of walking meetings, cited research on benefits and how neurons are activated differently, changing your whole thought process, when you are in motion v. stationary. I experienced this in other jobs where I suggested walking meetings because I was tired of being inside, sitting at a desk or being inside and standing around. To this day, I still do a lot of walking, just to ponder things or really muddle over an issue. Try it, see what happens. I also sat in on a data presentation, surprise surprise. Given by Sean Anderson of Rackspace, and called “The Age of Data in the Cloud,” he gave a rundown of the history of data, from the ledger to the mainframe to cloud infrastructures today. There were two things that stood out for me. The first is this:

The NSA dragnet comes to mind, naturally, but also every transaction, photograph, search result, login, any action I’ve ever taken that can now be recorded. It’s nice to think it may all be beneficial one day, but then Anderson went out to point out the challenge of so much data: finding good data. Reminds me of the line from Jurassic Park: “You were so busy thinking about whether or not you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.” The drive has been whether data, all types of data, can be collected. Now there’s a shift towards thinking about should that data be collected. He talked about some companies that have started to ask themselves that question, really think about their objectives and then work to only collect the data necessary to reach those objectives. They are in search of good data, not just data. The second thing that stood out for me was a comment he made about applications only being as good as the programmers, and that with the ledger, it was easier to trust the data because you knew the people doing the work.

The comment I’m referring to is one I saw on a blog post, and some Googling has revealed talk of a Hippocratic Oath for programmers (or software engineers) has been discussed since 2002, though this seems to be a good argument for one, from 2004.

Will lawsuits over self-driving car accidents, 3D printed houses that collapse, food that poisons, firearms that misfire or something else entirely, push for a Hippocratic Oath for programmers? Or is such a thing unnecessary since applications are only as good as the programmers, and programmers are still human? I do wonder, especially as learning to code is becoming as basic as learning to write. Will we have more empathy for gadgets and data collection as a result?

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