Say Hello to the SMAPP: A Changing Trend in Medical Innovation

Paul Alan Wetter, MD
Dr. Paul Wetter

Guest post by Dr. Paul Wetter.

We live on a small planet in a vast universe. Our ability to communicate globally has excelled at a lightning pace. I live in Miami, Florida, but I have spoken on this topic from many cities around the world. Within seconds my thoughts can be reported around the globe. This is a new era for innovation, communication, technology and science advancement that fosters a very rapid dissemination of new ideas from basic sciences to advanced technologies.

Back in the early 1970s there was great excitement about the new IBM mainframe system. The purpose of this new computer in the bank I worked in was to keep track of several thousand accounts and mortgages. The system filled an entire floor of the building with multiple modules. Storage was on spinning steel with magnetic tape backup and memory needed was 28mb. It was basically the equivalent brainpower of a Nematode worm or bacterium, but one that kept accurate records and basic computations without the mistakes of a human bank teller. In 1984, the Mac computer was introduced, but the computing power was the same as the room full of IBM mainframes.

Today, because of advances in materials science and miniaturization we carry in our pockets small “supercomputers.” Computing power has advanced from microbe level intelligence to that of a small mammal like a mouse. Based on predictions of computer pioneer Gordon Moore more than 20 years ago this trend should continue; Moore’s Law, which has proven fairly accurate states that computing power doubles about every 18 to 24 months. Today’s cell phone computers are close to monkey intelligence now and human intelligence in less than a decade. We are almost there today with some cell phone chips containing over two billion transistors. It is estimated that in less than a decade all the intelligence of mankind can be on a chip.

The consequences of this for mankind are enormous and could prove to be one of the greatest tools for scientific, medical and human advancement.

This is already happening. I became an early tinkerer in the development of apps for computers and published some of the first online medical textbooks and first medical books in the newer interactive ebook format. My role as a developer was unique until earlier this year (2014) when attending a developers’ conference and hearing the CEO of Apple Computer Tim Cook state through an Internet broadcast that he was welcoming the nine million app developers from around the world. He proudly stated that this was a 47 percent increase from the previous year.

This is the closest thing to Moore’s Law, but involves people not just computer chips. It still amazes me that there are that many people working on apps. Some of these people are working on scientific and medical problems and solving them. I call these “SMAPPS” for scientific and medical apps.

SMAPP are being designed to work with every kind of scientific and medical sensor you can imagine, to collect and analyze vast quantities of data from large numbers of people. This trend will blend into society over the next few years and names relating to them will be as common as terms like Twitter, Google, Wikipedia and Rollover.

Link this development trend to materials science with trends toward miniaturization and nanotechnology implementation of useful tools for society are limitless.

Writing this in 2014 there are already a very large number of medical and scientific tools that work with the SMAPP operating on the supercomputer in our pockets. These include ultrasonic transducers, oscilloscopes, retinal imagers, spectrometers; blood chemistry analyzers; vital sign trackers; and many more. We are only in the early stages of this trend. I think it is safe to say that it is possible today for a person in a major city almost anywhere in the world today to have more wellbeing sensors and detectors and data feeds than the Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon in 1970, or a patient in an ICU a decade ago. Each of us has far greater computing power in our pockets then all of NASA at that time.

The SMAPP and the advanced computer chips in our cell phones represent a giant leap for mankind and it is very exciting to live and work at a time when this is happening.

Paul Alan Wetter, M.D. F.A.C.O.G. is Chairman of The Society of Laparoendoscopic Surgeons and Professor Emeritus of the University of Miami, School of Medicine.  You can reach him at

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