Panel: Detroit can be leader in technological evolution

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan’s digital future is tied to the collection of big data and the power of technology, and it’s likely to include a world with swallowable technology to monitor health, industry officials said Wednesday at the Mackinac Policy Conference.

Moderator KC Crain Jr., executive vice president with Crain Communications, asked a panel how Michigan can capitalize on its strengths to lead the race in connected technology.

The panel included John Kwant, vice president of City Solutions, Ford Smart Mobility; Wright Lassiter III, president and CEO of Henry Ford Health System; Keith Collins, executive vice president and chief information officer with analytics software company SAS; and Ingeborg Rocker, vice president of 3DEXPERIENCity with Dassault Systèmes.

Ford, which just replaced its CEO in order to modernize the nearly 114-year-old automaker, has a role to play in mobility and Kwant says he envisions a world that is completely connected.

“In urban settings, the problems of moving people around becomes acute when you look at the future. How do we increase carrying capacity? ... How do we look at shuttles. If we believe trends, not everyone can own a car and live in the city. You just can’t get around.”

Kwant said he does not see a single isolated point in time where the world moves from engines to a connected future state.

“I don’t think it’s at one point in time of steep inflection. Once the vehicles become connected, all those things can be exponential. Cities will be at different paces. Some will truly adopt and others won’t,” he said. “You need a critical mass to make this work, a critical amount of connectiveness to work as best as it can be.”

Lassiter said one opportunity for Michigan to lead the digital future is its role in an National Institutes of Health study seeking 1 million Americans to partake into a giant genome project. Henry Ford is one of eight medical facilities participating.

“We are going to work hard to enroll 120,000 Michigan residents to help us look for treatments of the future,” Lassiter said

Protecting data has been a thorn in the side for health care, Lassiter said, but society should consider the advancements available with a larger set of data.

“Think about swallowable technology say to monitor level of a prescription drug in your blood. Imagine getting a text saying you haven’t taken your medication in a few days. Call us. That technology is right around the corner,” Lassiter said.

Panel members agree data is an asset, but Kwant noted “we need to talk about data stewardship. The role to protect the individual and opting in. We need to aggregate data for the greater good.”

Michigan and Detroit can be leaders in the technology future by bringing analytics to the edge and looking to start-ups, Collins said. But both should avoid getting stuck in a cycle that innovations don’t happen at big companies anymore.

“Look at innovations trapped there. You hired brilliant minds. Why aren’t you still operating that way?” he said.

Rocker said in Detroit there is an opportunity to lay groundwork for something fresh in terms of planning, designing and executing new technology, and there is the chance to leapfrog existing ideas.

“We can treat Detroit like a green field and leapfrog.... Let’s integrate as much as you can, let’s not silo,” Rocker said.

Rocker said Detroit is destined for leading the technology path.

“It’s cheap to live here. You have startup after startup. You need to reintegrate efforts into common ground. Otherwise, you wind up like an iPhone with lots of apps that aren’t connected,” she said.