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Home » Big Data Meets Cancer: Neil Hunt at TEDxBeaconStreet (Full Transcript)

Big Data Meets Cancer: Neil Hunt at TEDxBeaconStreet (Full Transcript)


Well, I hope none of you came here to hear about Netflix because I’m not going to say anything about Netflix at all. I have spent the last decade, though, figuring out how to use crowdsource data to make personalized recommendations and what I’ve become attracted to is the idea of using crowdsource data to solve perhaps a more socially important problem: “How do we find cures for cancer?” And you might think that’s an outrageous thing for somebody who has got no medical background at all, just technology and an entertainment background to propose.

So, let me start by posing a couple of questions: why is cancer different? Well, cancer isn’t one disease, cancer is thousands of diseases as Stéphane pointed out in the first session this morning for those of you who were here. And in fact, because it’s thousands of different diseases, there’s no single cure that can solve cancer. We need specific cures for each disease. So what tools can we apply to finding those cures? Because classical, clinical trials is not going to solve the problem for us. Let me give a little bit of background here.

This is a long tail distribution, and on the left, you’ve got a few things that happen frequently, and on the right, you’ve got a lot of things that happen infrequently. And so how is this relevant? Well, the stuff on the right actually constitutes most of the area on this curve. So if you can’t solve the problems that happen, the many problems that happen infrequently, you can’t solve the problem. If you can’t solve for the 10,000 cancers, you can’t solve cancer.

Now, 20th century medicine has done a miraculous job of solving problems for maladies and ahead of that curve. And so we have antibiotics, and we have vaccines, and we have Xanax and we have Tylenol, and hundreds of different drugs that tackle diseases that have a single cause where a single molecular mechanism can solve those problems, and that has done a remarkable job and elevated us, but perhaps many of you have the sense, as I do, that we’ve hit a bit of a stumbling block in the 21st century, in terms of making progress with medicine. And the diseases left over don’t respond to a one-size-fits-all solution. They need specific solutions for the particular problem that we’re dealing with.

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