Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Information please...let Google do it !!

I was a factoid geek when I was a kid, and some of that geekiness has crept into my adulthood. One of my favorite books as a pre-teen: Information Please Almanac. I couldn't wait until the new edition came out every year, and, just for fun, I would spend hours poring through fresh details about foreign countries, leaders, state capitols, official state birds, you name it. Yep, a real geek.

Should have gone outside and stayed in the Boy Scouts and joined Little League instead, like most of the other little boys. But...that's another story.

One legacy of childhood geekiness that has served me well is a devotion to metrics, statistics, numbers of all kinds. This analytical side of my nature has propelled me to achieve some modest success in business and elsewhere.

So, for me, reading Ken Auletta's Googled is an adventure tale just as good as Harry Potter or the Hardy Boys. I am poring through this book now and living vicarious thrills as Google's one success builds on the next and the next and the next. Smart, aggressive negotiating tactics, a focus on the end-user, and brilliant engineering based on numerical algorithms is winning the day. Great ! Gimme more gimme more.......

OK, so here's an idea whose time has come: "let Google do it!" when it comes to two of our most challenging problems: the "war" on terror asnd health care reform.

These twin challenges have this in common: if only we could assemble all the data we already have about terrorists (real and potential), or the detailed medical histories of ourselves and others whose characteristics we share, we could connect the dots in ways that could significantly advance potential solutions.

Think about it: the government failed miserably to nab the Underwear Bomber, even though key data were being assembled around the world, in real time, that, in retrospect, so clearly marked this man as a high-risk flyer. I see it as a problem of bad judgment but also an information technology challenge. Our government can't move fast enough in these scenarios, but Google can! Their search algorithms and ad revenue models are connecting the dots in precisely this way a gazillion times a day.

As for health care, my take-away's from this year's health reform success stories in magazines and newspsapers are that collaborative care for sick patients among groups of specialists who all have access to real time digital medical records improves treatment plans, lowers costs, and of course eliminates unnecessary paperwork. Isn't this an ideal challenge for Google, a company that has already scanned all the books in the Library of Congress, dozens of major university and public libraries, etc etc., all for the purpose of making information instantly and completely accessible for all--for free !

Are there huge privacy and security issues involved in Googling our terrorism and health care challenges? Yep. Bet we can figure this one out.

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