IBM acquired the detailed medical records of 61 million Italians, as reported on this site by Glyn Moody. This is a largely underreported story that doesn’t not just need more exposure, but more discussion: I believe it’s one of those stories where the future will show this was the correct thing to do, even though it violates every principle of liberty at the time.
The typical story today, anywhere on the net, is one intended to provoke instant anger at some described injustice. Sometimes, it’s tacked onto a “take action now!” electronic post-it that allows you to do something before your attention has been caught by something other distraction, fifteen seconds later. This is not one of those stories. To the contrary, I find that the story of IBM receiving the medical records of over 60 million Italians is very interesting and challenges some reactions that would normally be knee-jerk.
We have a number of principles we call liberty. The purpose of these is to leave at least as good a world to our children, as the one we inherited from our parents. One of these principles is privacy. Specifically, medical privacy. Nobody has any business digging through your medical records.
But what if doing so, as a one-time sacrifice for this generation, left a vastly better medical service for coming generations — without invading their privacy, while leaving future protection of medical records intact?
I once spoke at the same TED stage as the lead designer of Watson, the IBM AI who’s being fed with these medical journals. “We were in our early 40s as we started designing Watson”, he said. “We’re aware that doctors all over the world are completely overwhelmed by decision paralysis in today’s complicated diagnoses, especially those out on the edges. We figured that in