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"Burn the ships; dive in" - A Three Part Series: Part 2

Written by Andrew Le, MD

PublishedNovember 7, 2021

Welcome to the CEO Corner, where Buoy CEO and cofounder Andrew Le, MD sits down with industry leaders to chat about the provocative topics of healthcare today. Andrew recently spoke with David Kirkpatrick, the founder and editor-in-chief of Techonomy Media Inc., a tech-focused conference and media company. In one of the blog’s widest-ranging conversations yet, David and Andrew discussed the impact of Facebook, immigration, the potential pitfalls of digital health, plus electromagnetic pulse nuclear weapons.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Le, MD: I love what you said earlier about communication being the genre of change. Now thinking about it from the perspective of technology changing our landscape and fixing climate change, do you see any optimism for the internet maybe undoing some of the damage that has been done to our democracies in the way that we communicate?

An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook's Battle for Domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang

David Kirkpatrick: That's a great question. I just finished reading An Ugly Truth, which is this new book about Facebook. I'm going to write a review of it, and I'm going to praise it. It's really chapter and verse about all the things that have gone off the rails at Facebook. One of the things we do need to keep in mind about the internet is still roughly half the planet isn't even on it yet, right? You have another 3.6 billion people who aren't yet connected to the internet. Just imagine if they're not on the internet yet, they probably aren't very well-educated; they're not very affluent. They're not in cities in many cases. When you talk about how the internet is going to function in future years, those people are getting on it, and we need to want them to get on it. But they're going to get on it very ignorantly, unfortunately.

There are problems. Look at a country like the Philippines, for example, where they have an autocrat as a leader, and everyone's on Facebook. It has empowered an autocratic leader who was really a bloodthirsty thug. That is the kind of thing I'm afraid could happen in more places, regardless of immigration.

But your question, I assume, was more or less focused on the developed countries like our own. At the moment, I just don't know. I don't see strong evidence of a countervailing push toward more responsible governable tech. I do think governments will inevitably play a bigger role in overseeing and setting rules for our internet platforms.

If they do the right thing, maybe that will help make the systems more socially responsible, so to speak. I want to make clear that I don't think the internet is a net- harmful thing. I think it's net positive by a considerable margin. Certainly, in healthcare—your field, I mean—there are plenty of ways that that's the case. But I worry about civility and democracy, and those are not minor matters. I just don't have an answer for that question from the American point of view.

"I do think governments will inevitably play a bigger role in overseeing and setting rules for our internet platforms."

David Kirkpatrick, founder and editor-in-chief of Techonomy

Andrew: Yeah. David, I did ask it from a more global perspective. I think the Philippines example is a great one. Similarly, I was thinking about Brazil and how vaccine misinformation is not only a U.S. phenomenon. I think you're right that the government at some point will have to step in if these companies don't self govern, which I know it's trying to do.

David: Well, it's trying to step in. The FTC is suing Facebook, and the Justice Department is suing Google, and all these states are suing both of them. Europe is acting. There's plenty of governmental regulatory pushback but so far without a whole lot of effect. But I think it will eventually have some effect.

Andrew: Absolutely. To play it back, you think that you don't know the answer, but you're optimistic in that the internet has been a positive for the world, which I agree with.

David: Well, also going back to this issue of the 3.6 billion who are still unconnected, I do some work with the ITU, which is all about connecting those people. It’s a moral crime that those people have been left out. An American teenager trying to envision living in that world is impossible. First, those people have to get connected. You can't argue otherwise. This would probably, in many ways, help those people raise their standard of living and help them become healthier. As for other impacts, I don't know.

In Part 3 of the conversation, David talks the biggest areas of opportunity and potential damage of healthcare in the digital space.

About the participants:

David Kirkpatrick is the founder and editor-in-chief of Techonomy Media Inc., a tech-focused conference and media company.

Andrew Le, MD, is the CEO and cofounder of Buoy Health.