Technology and the Future of Medicine
Background Reading and PowerPoint files

                                                November   2                  "Genomics and The Future of Medicine (Gene chip diagnoses and designing ourselves)"
                                                November   3                  "The Singularity and The Have Nots (With reflections on medicine in five communities in Northern Alberta)"


PowerPoint Presentations

           November 2

Background Information


There is a fascinating article in today's Montreal Gazette that extends our discussions in the course about quantum computing:

'Human in a box'

Burnaby, B.C.-based quantum computing firm D-Wave Systems Inc. plans to go where no computer has gone before.

This week Thomas Mueller will be discussing Genomics and The Future of Medicine  (Gene chip diagnoses and designing ourselves) on Wednesday night and Bibiana Cujec and Earle Waugh will be discussing The Singularity and The Have Nots (With reflections on medicine in five communities in Northern Alberta) on Thursday night.

Earle Waugh has provided this discussion paper for Thursday night's teaching session.  In addition to the bottom line question he poses below and in the attached "in the future if you are not online will it be as if you do not exist?" I would pose another equally scary question "in the future will you have any choice about being online?" .  You can imagine a future where everyone is online whether they want to be or not.

This also in a somewhat comical way also relates to the present. Some of you resisted Email when it was new, now you use it routinely. Was that a completely benign transition?




Unequal Distribution of Technology: Some Notes for Discussion

(not for publication)

Earle Waugh, Ph.D.

     Dept of Family Medicine


Ethical, Social and Cultural Issues

1.    Early on, American educators recognized the potential inequity of educational opportunity for children in poorer neighbourhoods: Title 1 funds were utilized to keep children more or less equal in access to new and developing technology, ergo the growth of computer rooms in schools. In public schools only 63% of students had access to the internet compared to 78% for more advantageous areas/ and overall usage in US schools. In the US this meant normally Black and Latino schools were disadvantaged. Since the 1970s, for instance, the poorest 20 percent of all U.S. households have earned an increasingly smaller percentage of the total national income (generally less than 5 percent) while the wealthiest 5 percent of households have earned an increasingly greater percentage (about 45 percent of the total). [i]What happens to areas of the world where funding is not available for this kind of program?


2.    A country’s level of poverty can depend greatly on its mix of population density and agricultural productivity. Bangladesh, for example, has one of the world’s highest population densities, with 1,078 persons per sq km (2,791 persons per sq mi). A large majority of the people of Bangladesh engage in low-productivity manual farming, which contributes to the country’s extremely high level of poverty. 

Some of the smaller countries in western Europe, such as The Netherlands and Belgium, have high population densities as well. These countries practice mechanized farming and are involved in high-tech industries.

On the other hand, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa have population densities of less than 30 persons per sq km (80 persons per sq mi). Many people in these countries practice manual subsistence farming. These countries have infertile land and lack the economic resources and technology to boost productivity. As a consequence, these nations are very poor.

3.    In many developing countries, the problems of poverty are massive and pervasive. In recent decades most of these countries have tried to develop their economies with industry and technology with varying levels of success. Many developing countries, however, lack essential raw materials and the knowledge and skills gained through formal education and training. Because these things are necessary for the development of industry, developing countries generally must rely on trade with developed countries for manufactured goods, but they cannot afford much.

Because people in developed nations may have more wealth and resources than those in developing countries, their standard of living is also generally higher. Thus, people who have what would be considered adequate wealth and resources in developing countries may be considered poor in developed countries. 

In contrast, people in developing countries may consider themselves to be doing well if they have productive gardens, some livestock, and a house of thatch or mud-brick. In rural areas, people may be accustomed to not having plumbing, electricity, or formal health care. By the standards of developed countries, such living conditions are considered hallmarks of poverty.

According to reports, people’s incomes are not enough to cover the cost of their basic necessities and provide them basic services such as water, electricity, transportation and communication. It pointed out that recent surveys confirm that 80 percent of citizen’s expenses go for to food, most notably among vulnerable groups that are deprived of basic services and luxury means


4.    Cognitive development of children is one area singled out as critical for skills in the computer literacy field…access to the current intellectual climate is important for changing how students think about themselves and their environment. Is one handicapped without connection to technology? In one paper, NML and OML (old and new millennium learners) are identified! Josie Taylor, Mike Sharples and Giasemi Vavoula argue that there is a singularly new type of learning in the ‘technological age’. [iii] They suggest that mobile learning will create a new kind of human, with new cognitive abilities.


5.    Communication has been increased exponentially in teenagers since the introduction of the cell phone. Text messaging: "Young adults are the most avid texters by a wide margin. Cell owners between the ages of 18 and 24 exchange an average of 109.5 messages on a normal day—that works out to more than 3,200 texts per month—and the typical or median cell owner in this age group sends or receives 50 messages per day (or 1500 messages per month)”.[iv]. Such usage consumes an amazing amount of time. In a paper entitled  IMing, Text Messaging, and Adolescent Social Networks, J. Allison Bryant, Ashley Sanders-Jackson and Amber M.K. Smallwood argue that the social relationships of teens change from the networking they do, altering basic relationships with other, non-online cohorts.[v] Are the poor socially poorer for not being part of this social network?


6.    Learning online is now within reach of virtually all with technology. Worldwide, eight trillion text messages will be sent this year, with China out in front of the pack. [vi]  Is this technological landscape a good thing? What is its significance?


7.     Lack of critical assessment skills of what one can access on the internet reduces the importance of this as a learning tool. Is it ethical to place improper or false information on the web? We’ve all had scam mail. The National Cancer Institute has a website outlining how to determine whether or not to trust a website for its authenticity. They are concerned because cancer is one topic for which there is widespread false or mis-leading information. Does anyone monitor these sites? What impact can false information have on a population?[vii]


8.    Can whole cultures be ignored if they do not have technology? “In the long run, the Internet and the Web are likely to promote far more the use of languages other than English. If the Net is to be useful to most of the world's peoples, then the language of the Net in a country must be the local language, expressed in written form in the local alphabet. This is recognized both by countries and by companies, which see market expansion possibilities in countries only through localization of text and the ability to represent multiple alphabets. If we are fortunate, a standard like UNICODE will prevail, in which every alphabet used today will have a specific representation and rendering. Unlike the initial e-mail systems, the Web is UNICODE capable, and there is increasing activity in the UNICODE browser market. To the extent to which such multialphabet implementations are widely perpetuated, the door is open for the development of content created locally and observable globally that serves both nations and diverse communities scattered around the world.” Sadowsky[viii]

9.    In short, if you do not access this medium, will you cease to ‘exist’ in any significant way in the future?

[i] From ‘Poverty at Large: A Dark Spot in Humanity’, at


[iii] ‘Digital Technologies and Cognitive Development/ Can our theories of learning help us understand what people are doing when they learn interaction with networked, integrated , interactive digital technologies?’






Last Modified: Wednesday November 09, 2011 01:20:49 PM