Tuesday, April 01, 2014

#CNI14S closing plenary by Dr. Donald Lindbert, "Computers, Plans, and Campfires"

Closing Plenary: Computers, Plans, and Campfires
Donald Lindberg, Director, National Library of Medicine

Dr. Lindberg gave an excellent overview of his career up to his life at NLM (1984) and then his work at NLM from then forward. Outlining some of his key achievements, he felt that the idea of building on his predecessors work by creating a long term plan that would integrate much of the earlier work done in computing.

Some of the career highlights Dr. Lindberg reviewed included:

Other key areas including how to fully integrate early work on imaging. First project that came of out this was the Visible Human Project. The Visible Male was launched in 1994 (15GB); Visible Female a year later (1995; 40GB). As the project advanced, it was a good model of public/private partnerships as they developed hardware solutions to the data processing.

Another seminal project was the creation of NCBI which put NLM in the forefront of biomedical/technology informatics. NCBI was a challenge to get through the legislative process and much credit goes to Rep. Claude Pepper (FL), but with much help from many others, singed into law by Pres. Reagan in 19988 with $8M/12FTE at start. GenBank originally built at Los Alamos National Tab, transfered to NLM in 1992.

Unified Medical Language System (UMLS)
Attempt to overcame linguistic barriers to health professionals could exchange concepts. Built around semantic types (body parts, disease, symptom) and relationships (treats, causes, prevents, part of, etc.). Ended up with 135 semantic types and 51 relationships at start. Today, nearly 3M concepts and 9M terms.

High-Performance Computing Act 1991 and the HPCC NCO (National Coordination Office)
Goals include extend US tech leadership; apply and disseminate technologies, and provide key parts for the National Information Infrastructure (the Information Superhighway).  One of the things that came out of this included Mosaic (funded at UIUC by HPCC). Technical goals were gigabit transmission speed and petaflops computational speed. 

In consultation with supercomputer hardware manufacturers they learned hardware was going well, but what was really needed was better software. Software people didn't feel there was there was a market for software, so HPCC needed to step in.

HPCC also setup the HPCC Gigabit Testbed Sites for high speed networking. This work, led by Bob Kahn (BBN) and funded by NSF and ARPA

How did the Internet change NLM?
  • Free Medline
  • Sending full-text medical articles
  • operate large data files like GenBank
  • Led to MedlinePlus for patients
  • Outreach to underserved populations
Libraries are still powerful enough to aid Nobel Prize winners, or at least they try

Thirty years ago, the modern digital computer was barely functional. With much huffing and puffing, NLM’s Honeywell machines, with their 3/4 inch tapes, could create citation records of the published papers from the 100 best medical journals in 1971. Later IBM 370 computers expanded the scope. This was widely regarded as a notable and highly useful feat. Yet in 1984 the Library was still buying Wang typescript processing machines for its front office, and one our finest researchers in his university lab was (very cleverly) using fluid computing logic to analyze human cardiac blood flow.

The question for NLM, what to do henceforth was answered by a 25 year Long Range Plan that has guided us well. The plan was bottom-up and largely written by those we wished to serve.

1993 brought an opportunity to help medicine and healthcare join the concept of a national commitment to high performance computing and a vast and fast national communications network. I served as Director of the National Coordination Office for this sparkling new inter-agency White House project. The resultant working Internet, in its turn, radically changed many responsibilities and empowered many efforts at NLM and other medical entities.

Prominent among these were our efforts to provide medical and scientific information directly to patients, families, and the public. Underserved populations got special attention. Recently NLM has made an exhibition of more than 150 personal on site video interviews with American Indian, native Hawaiian and native Alaskans. These experiences have greatly enhanced our understanding of the worthiness of people and the limitations of computers and information alone.

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