Reflecting on the Challenges and Opportunities of Data at the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum 2019

Are companies keeping up with technological advances, and what are they doing specifically to contribute to society and provide value? What are the future prospects, and what kind of opportunities are being created for progress, including in the digital and scientific arenas?

As Japanese companies play an increasingly active role in developing processes to further realize the potential of IoT, big data, and artificial intelligence (AI) technology across a range of sectors, the Hitachi Social Innovation Forum 2019, held in Tokyo on October 17–18, 2019, was a good opportunity to reflect on and discuss these questions.

One of the key challenges that speakers highlighted at the Forum relates to data “preparation” or processing. Within the entire process of data collection, preparation, and analytics, preparation is by far the most time-consuming task. This is primarily because data itself, without a framework, lacks any kind of organization and comes in myriad forms. At the same time, this presents a great opportunity for the creation of new platforms, and, more generally, the development of innovative digital infrastructures, capable of efficiently processing such data. Increasingly, speakers noted, the competitive advantage that a number of companies in this field are able to offer relates to the provision of integrated solutions within a single platform.

In the life sciences industry specifically, one such platform was discussed at a digital innovation session regarding lessons learned from the American Heart Association’s (AHA) Precision Medicine Platform. The platform includes a vast array of curated and distributed datasets, which are centrally accessible to researchers who can analyze and share these securely with other researchers. Jennifer Hall, chief of the Institute for Precision Cardiovascular Medicine at the AHA, explained that one of the main reasons for initiating this platform related to the difficulties for researchers engaging in medical research stemming from a variety of obstacles, such as the need to assemble the necessary equipment, create a security process, find datasets, and have sufficient audit controls in place. The purpose of the Precision Medicine Platform was to facilitate the entire process for researchers by letting them have access to rich and varied sources of data, with the underlying infrastructure already designed to take into account necessary compliance requirements (e.g., with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). The result is that researchers are capable of having their own private cloud environment that they can customize and are provided with an enhanced infrastructure and tools to work with.

Hall went on to discuss a user case in which a researcher was able, through the support of the Precision Medicine Platform, to apply AI to help patients in need of coronary stents. An algorithm was developed to sort through a large amount of x-ray images to identify those images that were easiest to read, as opposed to those that would require the assistance of a radiologist. This was cited as a strong example of how data optimization can help create new solutions that can positively affect people’s lives.

Many people see AI as one of the most promising fields for rapid scientific development; for instance, scientists are currently developing algorithms capable of scanning patient mutations and automatically identifying potential drug targets. Continued progress in the field of digital infrastructure, such as the Precision Medicine Platform, can help support these developments by sharing results seamlessly and making them easily accessible to others.

For more information about the event, please visit: https://www.hsiftokyo.hitachi/en/outline/index.html

The author would like to thank Letian Ge for his participation at this event.