Big Brother and the Sometimes Scary World of Hi-Tech Disruption


On day 2 of ideacity 2019, audiences learned about the disruptive hi-tech innovations going on in the world of health, finance and retail. (Photo: Izusek/Getty Images)

On Day 2 of ideacity 2019 (Watch Day 3 here), the “Disruptors” panel gathered innovators from the fields of health, science and retail to show how they’re using all of our data to change our experiences in ways previously thought unimaginable.

In today’s high-tech surveillance world, almost every activity we undertake, from restaurants we dine at to purchases we make are captured, stored, sorted and sold to a third-party marketing firm.

These firms use all this data to build a consumer profile on each one of us. And while this practice has many useful applications in the fields of medicine, health and finance, it’s also a little scary — big data is becoming Orwell’s Big Brother, and it’s watching our every move.

The Personalization of Medicine


Alex Tsiaras is the founder of StoryMD, an app that collects and stores your health records and personalizes it for you. Think of it as a Facebook page that, instead of posting family photos, updates your health records. on StoryMD, Tsiaris promises: “you’ll never walk away [from a doctor’s visit] saying ‘I don’t get it.’” Imagine you are suffering form chronic arthritis. Using the StoryMD app, you start to build an arthritis story line: enter how bad the pain is, upload your latest x-rays and catalogue your prescriptions. Your doctor or specialists will have your entire health story available and he or she can add to it with his or her own notes or recommendations. From your smartphone, you can download the number of steps you’ve taken that day right onto your story platform. If you’re confused about what the problem is, there is countless spectacular videos and images and related articles that will guide you through. And if you’re travelling and need to see a doctor, he or she will be immediately and thoroughly up-to-speed by viewing your StoryMD records.  The big downside of this hi-tech venture, (which has become a theme at ideacity2019) is that StoryMD, like other social media sites, will capture your data and sell it.

Cutting-edge cancer treatment

Anna Van Acker, the president of Merck Canada, spoke on how our extended lifespans mean that one out of every two Canadians will experience some form of cancer in their lifetimes. Her company is disrupting the field of cancer treatment by exploring alternatives to the traditional combination of surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Not only has Merck spent billions researching treatments (including immunotherapy, which unlocks your body’s ability to fight cancer) but it is collaborating with governments, business and organizations to make sure these expensive treatments get to market and are accessible. “Imagine if the next generation doesn’t experience cancer,” Van Acker told the ideacity2019 audience.

Re-engineering the credit card

If you’re like me, you have dozens of reward cards carrying hundreds of dollars worth of points that never get used. In Canada alone, there are $16 billion of loyalty rewards points sitting there unused because we can’t be bothered to redeem them. Imagine a world, says Rash Katabi, founder of BRIM Financial, where you have one credit card that collects points you can use for “hyper-personalized” experiences that reflect who you are. With BRIM, all of your rewards sit in one spot and can be used for travel, dining or lifestyle choices that are relevant to you. That’s a vision we can all get behind.

Innovation in retail

Michael Cohen, of Zero Gravity Labs, explained how the brave new world of big data is making its impact felt at the retail level. In the future, we’ll walk into a grocery or clothing store and cameras will facially recognize who we are and match that with the purchasing history profile they’ve built on us. Once they’ve scanned our faces, they’ll enhance the customer experience by delivering coupons to our smart phones that directly match what we usually buy. And if we’re looking at a digital advertisement, it will change to match who we are. So the scanner will recognize if it’s a young woman looking at the ad or an older man. And the display will change accordingly. That’s very cool but also a bit scary.

Big brother is definitely watching

If you jaywalk in China, says Jim Harris (who observes and writes about digital disruption), a camera will pick you out, match your face to its digital database, and register your transgression into your personal file. Jaywalk enough and you’ll be penalized, whether it’s a fine or a minus-rating on your social score. It’s worrying to think what will happen if your social score collects too many negatives. But not all disruptive technology is being used by despotic leaders to monitor its citizens. Harris says that the exponential growth in the computing power of microchips growth in the power of digital computation will foster massive breakthroughs in health. In the future, when we go to the doctor, he will be able to scan our whole genome and biome, alerting us to diseases of which we may be prone. And feeding our health records into an artificial intelligent database, doctors will be able to predict adverse health events before they occur, and treat them accordingly.

Disrupting philanthropy

If you thought that philanthropy was immune to disruption, you haven’t met Mark Halpern. The CEO of, Halpern spoke of a new way to give to charity that not only gives you the good vibes of supporting a worthy cause but also makes sense from a financial planning perspective. Halpern suggests that most people with sizeable savings don’t realize how much of their estate will be swallowed up by the government when they pass it on to their heirs. Using one of his clever insurance schemes, Halpern shows how people can use charitable donations to bypass the tax man and, instead, leave their money to charities or their beneficiaries. Over the course of the years, he’s managed to maintain family wealth by reducing the tax burden and support good social causes. It’s a win-win estate-planning arrangement that you wouldn’t have thought possible.


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