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"Disruption" is a hot topic in digital economy

TEDx-Salon in Hamburg's Apartimentum explored what disruption means for health care, technology, mobility and commerce

The recent TEDx-Salon at Hamburg’s Apartimentum on February 25, 2016, explored what disruption means for health care, technology, mobility and the economy. Experts and inspired persons focused on divisions and trail blazing changes. And the venue, the smart house Apartimentum, was well suited to this futuristic topic. Built by XING-founder Lars Hinrichs, he also addressed those attending the event.

Six women and men outlined their projects and shared their views on on the issue. Disruption impacts both our way of life and professions and is usually akin to “tearing up”, “challenging” or “uprooting”. Today, the term also refers to the way new products and services succeed in supplanting or completely replacing established products. “Disruption” changes fundamentally how we live and work, how we do business and conduct research. The TEDx-Salon explored what disruption means for the health, mobility, technology sectors and the economy. All speakers provided impressive examples.

What is a disruptive technology?

Pascal Finette teaches at the Singularity University in California’s Silicon Valley. The Singularity University offers tuition and degree programmes as well as courses and events for scientists and entrepreneurs. Finette provided insight into the workings of disruptive or “exponential” technologies. One example is the path from the first super computer Cray X-1 to today’s Drive PX2 controlling autonomous cars. Computers are becoming not only more capable, but also smaller and cheaper. “Once a technology becomes digital, it also becomes exponential,” Finette noted.

That is also the only way to solve problems in future, he believes. To sustain the present levels of income, economic output and standards of living, societies in the west would have to generate 600 million new jobs by 2050. “However, this is not going to happen, so society must adjust to it,” he added.

Medical research without tests on animals

Nathalie Brandenberg is one of the founders of SUN Bioscience. The Swiss scientist studies life sciences at the Ecole Polytechnique Féderale de Lausanne. In her research, she devises methods of cultivating model organs from stem cells. Generally, cells are cultivated in petri dishes, but with stem cells, this is not feasible. Stem cells are body cells that have not yet grown and matured to a special function such as cells in the stomach or in the brain. Brandenberg’s firm provides an environment suited to growing stem cells – a hydrogel, in which the cells can grow and develop into model organs.

This allows tests on new, patient-tailored medication. This new health care would no longer require tests on animals and would deliver more effective medicines. At present, medical research and the certification of new drugs require extensive tests that use large numbers of live animals. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of a new drug on individual patients can never be predicted with certainty. Thus, Brandenberg’s hydrogels may render tests on animals redundant. The model organisms that grow in the hydrogel represent the organs of a specific individual, she noted. A new drug could be made to suit precisely this person.

Smartphone Apps to provide new insight

Vedrana Tabor is head of the cancer research department at Clue, which focuses on women’s health. Tabor intends using big data technologies to predict and diagnose illnesses such as cancer at an earlier stage and with greater accuracy. In her experience, gathering medical data has focused mainly on white middle class men in the western world. “Human diversity was largely ignored”, she says. Most studies are still carried out on men and only 10 per cent focus on women. Thus, half of humankind is being excluded.

Tabor seeks to motivate as many people as possible to share their medical data on smartphone apps and to transmit them to Clue. This would allow the firm to gather large amounts of data that Tabor will then analyse. This data will also contain information on demographic groups that were seldom covered in the past, for instance, people from populations other than the middle class, women and people of other races. Tabor hopes that this larger pool of data will allow her to gain more knowledge of cancer and other illnesses in a shorter period of time.

Mobility – new solutions for the future

Damien Leclercq focuses on tomorrow’s mobility. He previously worked in the automotive industry and now heads Local Motors. The U.S.-based company uses principles such as Open Source and Crowdfunding. Local Motors are building environment-friendly cars powered by electricity. The company uses 3D-printing and small factories all over the world for production. Blueprints and technical documents are available as Open Source material. Declecq believes disruption is a sheer necessity.

“In 2050, 70 per cent of all people will be living in cities”, he says. There will be only limited space available for individual mobility. Today, China is already experiencing traffic jams that last for days on end. Moreover, cars are just parked for 35 per cent of the time. Thus, the cities of the future need different approaches. Declecq believes this approach is best represented by driverless and digitally connected cars driven by electric motors that can be ordered on demand. These cars would be produced locally using sustainable technologies.

Decentralized solutions for banking

Lorne Lantz is a Bitcoin entrepreneur who has already built several successful start-ups. The aim of his current project is to use blockchain technology to advance the banking system in less-developed Asian countries. A blockchain is a database that provides a direct link between supplier and user. All transactions are visible to all users. Bitcoin is probably the most widely known blockchain application. “Blockchain allows parties who do not trust each other to co-operate with each other”, says Lantz. All computers linked in the blockchain control each other, he explains. Moreover, the blockchain is a system without a centre and can replace the centralized system currently in use.

New ways of living

Hinrichs provided not only the Apartimentum as the venue, he also gave insight into his “most passionate project so far”. The residence in Hamburg’s Mittelweg offers furnished apartments equipped with state-of-the-art technologies to people living and working in Hamburg for short periods of time. Hinrichs believes the traditional business model of letting is outdated as it has not changed over the past 70 years.

Hinrichs’ Apartimentum provides apartments on the basis of assured shorthold tenancy agreements. The contract includes services according to hotel standards and up-to-date communication technologies. Hinrichs says his customers do not pay per square metre, but per cubic metre of well-being. “To me, disruption means I am coming from the outside and setting completely new rules”, says Hinrichs.
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