Healthcare and Language Access Series: Dele Atanda Interview - Your Data, Your Future

How do we think about the mobile apps and data that we use in our day to day lives? How can data collected on a smartphone be used to ethically combat COVID-19? In today’s Healthcare and Language Access Series conversation we speak with futurehacker Dele Atanda, CEO and Founder of metaMe about the intersection between healthcare and tech!

Author of The “Digitterian Tsunami: Web 3.0 and the Rise of the NEO Citizen,” Dele has been obsessed with digital transformation as early as the late 90s when he first worked with the Central Office of Information in the United Kingdom. He has decades of experience working with large multinational corporations working on digital transformation at enterprise scale and most recently has been developing an app that scans a user's eye to determine their risk of having COVID.

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Dele Atanda, CEO & Founder of metaMe chats with Jeff

We had the pleasure of meeting Dele at HLTH VRTL 2020, an exhilarating 5-day virtual healthcare conference that brought together some 4,000 attendees and over 200 speakers. He’s previously showcased healthcare applications on their platform and continues to advocate for the responsible and sustainable usage of user data in tech and healthcare settings.

Our Head of Client Solutions, Jeff Weiser, got to sit down for a lively 2-part interview with this maverick of all things digital.

Understanding the “threats” and “opportunities” in data

As people increasingly relinquish control of their data, questions around the social issues of ownership, sovereignty, and privacy arise. How many of us honestly read the fine print in any of our data agreements when we install an app or input our personal information on to a website or patient portal?  This question first resonated with Dele around the time of the Arab Spring in 2010.

“The Arab spring was really one of the biggest sorts of wake-up calls to the power of the internet as a force for social change.” As spectators to this dramatic series of protest, the world collectively saw how social media can force social change.
Parallel to this world altering application of social media, the dangers of surveillance were really driven home to him at this point. Activists, journalists, and anyone critical of the governments of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain had a target on them. Their only safe communication method at that time was secure messaging applications and Tor (anonymity network). This highlighted the importance of the idea of “cyber human rights” for Dele. The right to free speech, free assembly, privacy, and property that we all take for granted in the physical world needed to be transposed to these virtual spaces. This movement connected all of the threads that up to then were informing his passion about digital culture. On the heels of the spring came the Edward Snowden National Security Agency whistleblower leak. This affirmed the fact that data and social media platforms spurring social chance was not just an isolated instance in “far off places.” We were seeing the impact in Western Nations at a global scale.

These events lead Dele to set up his non-profit organization The Internet Foundation. Its primary focus is for campaigning for universal digital human rights and creating a mandate for a clean data charter. This charter focused on how companies should use data responsibly and sustainably. The Ethical Data Standard was created with the British Standards Institute and published in February 2020, allowing The Internet Foundation to both audit and demonstrate to companies how they can more responsibly process and manage the data they process. Dele’s work with The Internet Foundation’s standards system, technology, and network would become the backbone for the work being done at his for-profit company metaMe.

Health, mobility, and media

So, what is metaMe?

metaMe is the toolbox and platform that allows companies to have control and sovereignty over their data and allows them to create new data asset types that one can own and exchange. Industry specific applications can be applied across the board. His team started with a primary focus on health and mental health.

Last year metaMe and IBM collaborated to build a mental health app that created an AI that analyzed people’s social media posts to assess their stress levels. This would then trigger recommendations for interventions and support services as a way of diagnosing those potential mental health issues. As they focused more and more on healthcare, they realized the broader impact that data collection and health presented.

Not only could they have a bigger impact with their responsible approach, but the value proposition of improving both the quality and length of people’s lives through better understandings is a clear win for both business and people. “If I can not only help you make money from you data, but also make you healthier from your data and make you live longer, then that’s a very compelling set of value propositions!”

Ontology and Me

So, what is metaMe?

So once the connections between importance of data as linked to health was understood there was an additional component to this puzzle. That piece was a universal ontology. Ontology in data and Ai refers to the “specification of the meanings of the symbols in an information system.” 

What they realized in working in their IBM AI mental health systems where they needed three critical components working seamlessly. They needed good AI (machine learning, deep mind, algorithms), good data that the systems could use to train and learn, but most importantly was the need for good ontologies. Dele describes this as “the relationship between the intelligence and the data. The ontology is what sits in between them, effectively that enables the intelligence to process the data efficiently.” So, when working at a global scale with a bunch of different data sources and tools, you begin to hit a problem. Ontologies from different industries don’t talk to each other, ontology for say a plane system can’t talk to one for automotive systems. Building off of this incommunicado example, Dele described in detail the multiple ontological layers of self-driving cars. They’re dependent on the ontology for the car, the city, the user’s home, and many more. It was this glaring issue of requiring a common ontology that became a clear need for the tech industry.

“The answer to this issue was to make [the ontology] ‘human-centric,’ and there is nothing more human-centric than health… If you develop an ontology around health, you develop an ontology that’s ostensibly human-centric and you can build that as a basis for ontologies that can touch everything else…"

Data will be critical to winning the battle against COVID-19

We're in a better technological position now, but initially the world did not know what to do with the collected data surrounding COVID-19. Dele's companies’ approach and framework allowed for data to be sorted, shared, and made available to pharma, academic institutions, public health centers, and more. This "global data commons" allows the world to collectively interpret data. With this shared system though came the strict requirement to maintain privacy for the individuals in that commons, while respecting their property rights. metaMe ensured that they managed data with their blockchain smart contract rules, which would allow for this safety and privacy concern to be met.

Before Dele and his team even thought of developing an app, they came across a technology that allowed them to derive oxygen saturation levels just from looking into a smartphone camera. Oxygen levels in the blood is a key indicator of risk.

"It looks around the eye socket area... and because video is shot at more than 20 frames per second, it can basically take each of those frames and analyze the data around those frames, particularly the metadata, and so it's looking for contractions and extractions around the eye socket area and for changes in coloration which come from oxygen saturation...”

By leveraging the technology in your pocket, combined with the algorithms and data surrounding COVID-19 sufferers, they were pushing to create a holistic approach to more accurate contact tracing. From there, they built a smart diagnostic app that combined the scanning technology, the best symptoms and vitals monitoring open-source tech, buttressed by their privacy and preservation framework for contact tracing. One of the big problems with COVID-19 is the fact that there are pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic people. Just monitoring someone’s visible symptoms is not enough to determine their personal risk and risk to others.

Phones charged and masks up

As we continue to battle our own national spikes and the continued spread, it becomes even more clear that Americans need to maximize their use of technology, safe and secure data and contact tracing. The analog and easy to follow measures of continuing to social distance and wearing masks are also critical. Dele’s mission to bridge the informational divide that slow the exchange and interpretation of healthcare data is one of the many beacons of light that we can look towards as we head into a critical winter season.

Tune in below!

Part 1

In part 2 of our interview with Dele we get in to the practical application of this approach to data and ontology as we learn about how metaMe is using their futuristic and ethical approach to tackle contact tracing and the pandemic.