Will Technology Replace People? Why You Shouldn’t Be Alarmed With Gene Wang
Are you worried that technology will replace people? You shouldn’t be. Technology exists to help people live life to their fullest. Chad Burmeister’s guest in this episode has some pretty interesting insights that might just change your mind. Gene Wang is the CEO at People Power, an AI solution that aims to reduce anxiety in family caregivers. Many American households cannot afford a fulltime caretaker to watch over their elderly. Does this mean that People Power replaces human caregivers? Not at all. Rather, it helps human caregivers give better and easier care! Tune in to discover how!
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Will Technology Replace People? Why You Shouldn’t Be Alarmed With Gene Wang
I've got Gene Wang with me, who's the Founder and CEO of a cool company, People Power. We're going to talk about AI in the healthcare vertical. It's amazing the question that we're going to get to not right away, but we're going to get to in a little bit, is will this replace people in the workforce? I'm going to leave that one hanging there, Gene. Welcome to the show. Thanks for being here.
Thank you so much. It's a lot of fun. I appreciate you having this show and having me on the show too.
It’s great to have you. It's expanded. We used to focus on AI in the sales motion. There's been so much interest in AI in general that we're now talking to bankers. We're talking to pharmaceutical companies, anywhere and everywhere that they're using AI. It's interesting to see across all the different vertical industries what AI actually helps people do, expand, get into new markets, do things that they wouldn't have ordinarily been able to do. Before we get into the fun part of AI, I like our audience to understand who you are as a person. Where'd you grow up? What are some of the early childhood memories that you can share with the audience?
I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I moved every 2 or 3 years from that age to when I was a teenager. I'm what's known as a university brat. It's like being an army brat, but it revolves around towns like Boston, Massachusetts, Columbus, Ohio, and places like that. I'm a serial entrepreneur. I've done five startups. I live in Palo Alto, California now. This is my third time because I'm a migrant worker. I go where the startups are. I went from Palo Alto down to Santa Barbara, back to Palo Alto, down to Laguna Niguel, and now back to Palo Alto.
When I was a kid, I got into computers. My dad bought me one of these Altair 8800 kits where you could solder together and construct your own little baby personal computer. That's the stuff that I was doing and I hooked on computers. My first AI company was my first startup. We were a spinoff out of MIT. Although, I dropped out of Harvard Business School to join up and become a VP of marketing there. I started as a computer programmer and then moved to the dark side of marketing and had a great time doing AI before it was fashionable like it is now.
It's been around for many years or something like that. Most people think it's new in the year 2020 and it's not.
AI solves problems across the industry around the world.
It goes back for decades. We worked with Professor Patrick Winston way back in the ‘80s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We were growing fast for a while there and we hit the AI winter. Now with machine learning, AI is back, on top and solving problems across the industry around the world.
My nephew goes to Colorado School of Mines as does my son. My nephew bought an Ethereum mining machine. It's got nine GPUs on it and a fan like you would not believe. It heats the basement up a little bit more than my brother would like at this time of year in the summer. In the winter in Colorado, it’s perfect but in the summer, not so much. It is interesting how the bandwidth and the computing power weren't there before. Now so much can be done. We have a product with my company, ScaleX, that does a year's worth of work in eight minutes. It looks at all the different pathways on LinkedIn to a list that you're trying to get in and says, “That person could get a meeting with that person,” versus trying to reach out directly with all the human labor. I'm finding that there's a lot of similarities where what used to take a year can now take eight minutes to do things. Let's dive into that in the healthcare world. How did you decide to go after the senior care market? It's growing, but what caused you to have an interest in that space?
My mother is getting older and she has fallen three times. She is doing well now but did have a big scare with cancer a few years ago now. I love my mother, but I don't want her to move in with me. A lot of what I'm doing at People Power revolves around helping my mother and also people like me who take care of their parents and allowing people to live higher-quality lives with peace of mind and also make the surrounding family able to help carry some of the load. I'm a Baby Boomer. The Baby Boomers control 83% of the wealth of the country. Every day, 10,000 people in America turned 65. The good news is we're all living twice as long as we used to live 100 years ago. The bad news is that all kinds of problems afflict people as they age. We're targeting a market with AI that can keep people happy, healthy, safe, and also surrounded by people who they love and who love them to make the world a better place to live in. People are also willing to pay for being able to live better, longer and healthier lives.
I can remember my grandmother had a couple of falls. It led to some bad situations. Had there been a little better monitoring could have been a better solution. It's exciting to hear that AI technologies are being deployed in this area. Tell us a little bit more about how does it work. Can you walk us through a scenario, for example, of how AI fits in the healthcare world for you guys?
People Power is a software company that is creating services that connect to many different kinds of sensors and devices that can help keep watch 24/7 over seniors. For example, we can install these very cool radar-based sensors, which can detect falls in near real-time without being spooky and intrusive like a camera is. We also support cameras, by the way, but people, in general, do not like a camera in their own home facing inward. They don't mind it so much facing outward watching for burglars. We also do these home security systems, which are more camera-based. With these kinds of special sensors, we can instantly detect falls. We can also connect to help buttons that you can press, which is a call for help. We also connect to various motion and entry sensors and we track the activities of daily living.
We can tell, for example, if my mother goes to bed at night around say 9:30 or so, that's great. If she doesn't get up by 8:30 at the latest, there could be something wrong and I can get an alert. This alert, which is we use AI to act as eyes in the sky and alert to a trusted circle of family and friends, and then escalate potentially to a 24/7 emergency call center, who can then, in the worst case, escalate to an ambulance or an emergency medical team to come out and make sure things are okay.
Who's typically your customer? Is it the senior living facility, hospital, home or all of the above?
Both of those, so we are moving into senior living facilities now. Our historic orientation has been homes and we connect to all kinds of devices in the home from lights, light switches, thermostats and water heaters and all kinds of things. That's how we started the company. We did all this home automation and are still able to support that. We have focused on starting in 2018 on senior care because we won a $4.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. I'm very happy to say that they notified us that they're going to give us another $3 million grant to continue our work because we have demonstrated at the Association for Psychological Science in May 2021 that our People Power caregiver solution is scientifically validated through randomized controlled trials to reduce anxiety in family caregivers, watching for people watching over people with Alzheimer's or other kinds of dementia.
One of the things that these trials showed is that the active group who had AR-enabled system as compared to the control group who did not have an enabled system, would get alerts. The more alerts that we were helping them with the less anxious they felt. There was a very nice article written up in the UC Berkeley News called Eyes in the Sky. It basically talked about how artificial intelligence is helping seniors live more safely at home and also making the families feel safer and less worried about their loved ones.
Compared to the business world on the email side of our house for the longest time, I still had people going in and reading over the email before the AI responded to it. They’d go, “Yep.” For six months, I had people looking at everything. Our technical team came back and said, “Chad, you realize that 98.9% of the time, the email that is mapped to the message is correct. Your people aren't actually changing anything except for 1.1% of the time.” I was like, “You can start to have trust in the AI providing the level of business value.” In this case, it's like, “I don't need to drive by the house every day or every hour because I have trust that the eye in the sky is going to do what it's supposed to do.” That’s neat.
On the business model side, there are these professional home care agencies who essentially will go and charge on average $61,000 per year to take care of seniors who need help, do some cooking and cleaning and make sure that they're taken care of well. That is not 24/7 help. That's like maybe 40 hours a week type of help.
Most of the population can't afford that level of spend.
What we can do is we can basically cut that those hours way down, but also offer three times the coverage, 24/7 coverage, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Furthermore, some of these caregiver companies can't hire enough caregivers to handle the need. What's going on is the demographics are every day, 10,000 people turn 65, 70% of them will need care. People want to be safe. They don't want to fall and then have somebody find them days later or even worse situations. Our system has been helping people. It's very rewarding. It's a big business opportunity, but it’s also a wonderful mission to be involved in.
Offer the best solutions that can be personalized to each person.
I think of my ring doorbell, and I've got one in the front, one in the back and it's changed everything. I don't need to pay the $30, $60 a month for the service anymore because I'm covered now. Another colleague, a very successful seller turned CEO and inventor, created something to solve the porch pirate problem. It's this little unit that goes outside your front door. When FedEx, UPS or Amazon comes to deliver, they can scan it, get in, but the thieves can't get in. It's a great little piece of technology that even connects to your phone. Now, they're partnering with one of the big garage door manufacturers that's out there. It's three times more coverage at a lower cost and it's good for the caregiver.
The caregiver should want to do this because then they can be extremely competitive against the $61,000 person. They can now cover more homes. Obviously, they got into the business for a purpose and if they can serve more people three times more effectively then why wouldn't they? They'd want to do that. Where do you think it goes? It seems to me, when the internet came out and everyone said, “This is going to change everything,” and it did. Now it seems we're at a new frontier where AI sitting on top of the internet provides a whole new level of infrastructure and opportunities.
What we think is that ten times bigger than the internet of people is going to be the Internet of Things but these things, little sensors, voice controllers and Apple Watches, we connect to all of these things now. They need an AI in the sky that can combine this into a cooperative ecosystem of devices that are keeping people safer, happier and better cared for. What we see is it's AI plus IoT, the Internet of Things together that is going to make the real solution. People Power is a B2B company and we are selling to care service providers to put their brand on a system and then sell it through to their customers. We're trying to make it very cost-effective, affordable and scalable.
Our system has been running at five nines reliability, so 99.999% uptime in 2020. We're doing pretty well in 2021 as well. Our system has supported 1.2 million users. We process about six terabytes of data a week. We’re trying to stay on top of it by offering the best solutions that can be personalized to each person and each family situation. As people get older, their diseases, their challenges, their obstacles, their fears change as well. For example, we work quite a bit with people caring for patients with Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's can start as a mild cognitive impairment and then progress onto gradually more and more severe conditions.
With Alzheimer's, you can still actually enjoy a happy life, even as you lose some of your mental capabilities. Certainly, the family caregivers of which there's something like 53 million people doing care in the US, so it's a huge percentage of the American adult population already. What we can do is we can make their quality of life much better. It's all about giving people the tools and technology so that they can live their lives to the fullest. That's what we're trying to do.
There's another Bay Area company called Fortanix. Have you heard of this company?
I don't think so.
The CEO's name is Ambuj Kumar. They're anonymizing patient healthcare information so that you can apply AI to it to provide information. They work with the Benioff hospital, UCSF and a lot of big companies. With the six terabytes of information, I'm sure there's some AI that can be looked at there, but how do you do it in a way that's meaningful and yet protected?
I can see a real need for that. We are HIPAA compliant, which protects patient privacy. It's a pain in the neck. We give a demo of our system and we call it the Rock of Ages Demo because it's real people, but we've renamed it. It might be Van Morrison or Van Halen. We change all the names to these aging rockstars, so we call it the Rock of Ages. That company that you're talking about would have maybe more of an automated way to protect privacy.
I have a Rock of Ages signed guitar by multiple famous aging singers, guitarists, drummers, bassists, etc. They all played at a location in Vegas one time. I'm real familiar and I actually have their autographs. This has been a fun conversation, Gene Wang, Founder and CEO of People Power. Congratulations on the grants and all the work you're doing. I think every teenager or at least I did, how can I impact a million people in my life and your 200,000 over quota. Good luck on the next 800,000. What you're doing is critical and important to people. It’s fabulous having a conversation with you, Gene.
Thank you, sir. I appreciate it.
Everybody, until the next episode. Cheers.
About George Wang
Gene Wang is CEO and co-founder of People Power, an industry-leading software and services company specializing in custom branded AI-powered telehome solutions for senior care, safety, security, and consumer energy management. A pioneering innovator, Gene is today leading the research and development of next-generation home care services as Principal Investigator for a landmark caregiver study funded by the U.S. National Institute on Aging.
Gene was previously Chairman and CEO of Bitfone, an industry leader in mobile phone device management, which sold to Hewlett-Packard in 2007. He was CEO and Chairman of Photo Access, which sold to Agilent in 2000. As CEO of Computer Motion, a leader in medical robotics, he led the company through a successful IPO in 1997.
Previous to that, Gene was Executive Vice President of Symantec where he managed four divisions and helped double annual sales.As VP and General Manager at Borland, he drove development and sales of the C++ programming language to more than a million users. Prior to that, Gene was co-founder and marketing leader at Gold Hill Computers, an Artificial Intelligence company based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
An avid musician and leader of the People Power Band, Gene earned a degree in computer science from the University of California, Berkeley.