Can We Reverse Diabetes Through Lifestyle GPS?
We speak to the co-founder of an AI startup aimed at ridding the world of diabetes
When IBM’s Watson made its debut winning Jeopardy back in 2011, runner-up Brad Rutter attested to the machine’s capacity saying, “I for one welcome our robot overlords.” Though the loser paints a grim picture of what artificial intelligence might ultimately end up looking like in a distant and unimaginable future, Watson has proven a friend to humanity in the years following his triumph.
In the past couple of years, artificial intelligence has shifted from the futurist’s favorite buzzword to an evident business trend. Leveraging the power of computation to make sense of big data empowers hundreds of startups by capacitating deep levels of user customization and interaction for moral good. Take Suggestic for example, a corporate newcomer using AI to help pre-diabetics and those with Type 2 diabetes steer clear of the disease.
By tailoring suggestions around an individual’s dietary preference and nutritional portfolio, the chat-like app essentially becomes your ‘lifestyle GPS,’ providing actionable suggestions in the right place at the right time. We got a chance to speak with the company’s co-founder and CMO Shai Rosen to map out the ways in which the company is informing people of the causes and dangers of diabetes while simultaneously helping them curve their sugary cravings.
“Contrary to what you learned in school, genes are not fixed,” reads Suggestic’s site.
“They have ‘switches’ that turn them on and off… and are reversible through a set of lifestyle changes that fit your unique needs. The challenging part is that our genome contains millions of these ‘switches,’ so it’s no surprise that without deep personalization most programs out there don’t seem to work.
At Suggestic, we have developed technology that helps address these shortcomings.”
The company was originally conceived when the cofounders identified their desire to build a platform that merges the collective human intelligence (Rosen referred to it as ‘crowd-sourced intellect’) with AI. Having spent the last 15 to 20 years in the field by Rosen’s estimate, cofounder and CEO Victor Chapela was perfectly comfortable turning their dream into a reality. After juggling between multiple use cases, the two landed on a subject close to home: diabetes; given that they themselves are pre-diabetic and that a rather large market share exists and is ripe for the taking, the rest was a no-brainer.
The app works in two stages, what Rosen describes as an input stage and output stage. When you first sign up, you’re prompted with various fields that ask for basic information such as height, weight and so forth. Fortunately, you can skip this process by importing data through Apple health or other health trackers compatible with the app. Of course, the more data points you enter the more customized the approach—and the app is capable of screening and comprehending tons of information; you can even submit a DNA test.
The second stage is more ongoing than the first in that the app’s counseling evolves with the user. Crunching the data, the AI generates a ‘health cloud’ of all of your data points, be it your basal metabolic rate, gut microbiome, blood and saliva biomarkers, special response to certain fats or protein and so forth. It will also confirm your responses to certain suggestions to improve upon its recommendations.
“The idea here is simply to make your life easy. If you don’t like a recommendation, the app will filter it out for next time and put something equally healthy [for you as an individual] in its place,” says Rosen.
And make your life easy it does. Beyond simple suggestions of what you should be eating, the app reminds you when it’s time to take certain pills, be active and so forth. It even composes a shopping list based on your wants and needs to take home and make delicious food using one of over a million recipes filtered to your precise requirements. When you’re not close to home or are simply eating out, location tracking will help you pick out the right items from over 500,000 registered restaurants.
“The main component of healthcare industry disruption is the power of personal computing. There’s so much knowledge and information out there and there’s enough tech that we can hyper-specify it to individuals. That’s impossible for a single person, even doctors,” asserts Rosen.
Indeed, the CMO is on to something: when we think of health, we tend to have a cookie-cutter approach to what is good for us and what isn’t. What sets Suggestic apart from the competition is this realization that that’s simply not true: what works for you might be sending someone else to the emergency room.
Though the co-founders are still working out a long-term vision for the company, they’re excited to unveil their beta come April. Right now they’re contemplating whether Suggestic should expand into other branches of health, or dive even deeper into diabetes. Rosen is interested in exploring the possibility of creating another side of the platform to help doctors assist patients using the data that collected by the app.
“If doctors are humans, we want to make them superhuman. We don’t want to replace them altogether, we want to give them the tools to make their work better and more efficient. The industry still needs that human touch, there’s still so much to do even from a regulatory perspective.”
If nothing else, Suggestic is a prime example of artificial intelligence done right. With proper execution, we won’t need to fear computers like Watson; we’ll be putting them to use to better humanity and the planet we live in.