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Big laughs at Stanford's Big Data in Biomedicine Conference

Last week's high-powered Big Data in Biomedicine Conference, held on Stanford's campus, featured more than 40 speakers and several hundred participants grappling with the massive challenges of harnessing the growing flood of relevant data that's soaking the fields of patient care and medical research.

Sound deadly? In fact, the talks were punctuated every five minutes or so by belly laughs. In my write-up of the three-day event, I managed to include one causal zinger, a comment by opening speaker John Hennessy, PhD, Stanford University's president and a computer scientist by training:

If cars had made as much progress as computers over the past several decades, you’d be able to drive across the country for a dime in one of them and then pack it up and stick in your shirt pocket.

But I had to leave a whole lot of great material out - for instance, this aside by Atul Butte, MD, PhD, the conference's principal organizer, upon noting that the amount of data generated globally each year is now measured in zettabytes (the prefix "zetta" referring to the number "1" followed by 21 zeroes): "I'll freely admit that most of those zettabytes are kittens playing the piano!"

And here's keynoter David Ewing Duncan, author of the book "The Experimental Man" and a human guinea pig who has had himself tested more than a thousand times for tens of thousands of genetic traits including behavioral ones, on learning that he is at "very high risk" for a deficiency in empathy: "I don't know quite what to think about that. And I don't care what you think about it."

Previously: Image of the Week: The Experimental Man at Big Data in Biomedicine, A call to use the "tsunami of biomedical data" to preserve life and enhance health and Mining medical discoveries from a mountain of ones and zeroes

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