AI Talk: FHIR, FaceApp, diapers and failures

Aug. 5, 2019 / By V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD

This week’s AI Talk…

FHIR on fire

Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR), pronounced as “fire,” is HL7 healthcare interoperability standards specification. Early in 2019, ONC and CMS signaled that they putting their weight behind this standard to promote interoperability and stop information blocking (a practice where EHR vendors refuse to provide access to patient data or charge an unreasonable price to access it). This week, Director of the National Library of Medicine, Dr. Patricia Brennan, blogged that NLM funded programs will promote the use of FHIR APIs. A year ago, big tech (the usual collection—Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon, etc.) announced they were supporting the FHIR effort; this week big tech is testing real solutions in DC, in the form of apps that will give patients direct access to claims data using the FHIR standard. When this comes to pass, it will be a good thing for all of us—we are all patients too!  What tolls we face on the road ahead remains to be seen; the fight to access data for legitimate uses is an ongoing affair.


Last month there was a firestorm of protest over a Russian-based photo editing app called FaceApp. FaceApp is a viral sensation, showing people how they may look when they are older or younger, or with a different hairstyle or a smile! MIT Technology Review had a thoughtful article on this front. The fact that the app is made by Russians has spooked a lot of people, including Congress. The concern is that user privacy is going to be compromised in unknown ways. The Review lists a few possibilities: face modification (basically improve on what they are already providing), face analysis (to predict age, gender, etc.), face detection and deepfake generation (creating faces that don’t exist). The Review notes, however, that these things are already being done using public databases of facial images. They basically underscore the fact that we have already lost most of our facial privacy. Going after FaceApp is like closing the barn door after the horses have bolted. Sad state of affairs!

Smart diapers

Well, the question is why not? We have smart toasters, smart coffeemakers, smart dishwashers, smart watches…why not a smart diaper? I asked a young parent if she would use one. The answer was immediate: No way! And, perhaps she is right. Who wants to be interrupted with a notification that your baby has peed during a meeting? That would be good for some laughs, I am sure, but there is another reason for not adopting this technology—the impact they would have on the environment. NPR released an interesting piece on this topic, stating a commonly known fact: Disposable diapers are not environmentally friendly. The news article went on to say some West African countries don’t use anything at all and regulate their babies by giving them twice daily enemas! Of course, leave it to the Wall Street Journal to analyze the trendlines here. The fact of the matter is there are significantly fewer babies now than a decade ago! P&G (Pampers and Luvs brand diapers) and Kimberly-Clark (Huggies brand) have basically gone for more features and higher prices to drive earnings. Huggies introduced a line of diapers made out of plant-based materials—presumably more environmentally friendly. Pampers diapers have sensors designed by who else? Google! The relentless march of technology goes on, but is the market ready for these yucky gadgets targeted to yuppie couples? The companies clearly think there is still a lot of room to introduce pricier and pricier diapers!

Colossal failures

CB Insights has published an interesting list: 145 products that failed in the marketplace over the past couple of decades! That is a long list. I recognized some major ones: Google Glass, New Coke, Segway, the DeLorean, but then the list included items such as Wow Chips and Trump Steaks. Lots of products that I had never heard of. Pepsi Blue? Bic for her? Interesting list—lends credence to the old adage: one in ten ventures succeed!

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V. “Juggy” Jagannathan, PhD, is an AI Evangelist with four decades of experience in AI and Computer Science research.