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The $250,000 Physical

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Vassar, who is 34, lives in California and crashes with friends when he is in New York. He has always thought about systems in the largest possible terms. Immediately prior to becoming MetaMed’s chief science officer, he was the president of a Berkeley nonprofit called the Singularity Institute (now called the Machine Intelligence Research Institute), which is largely dedicated to addressing the moment when machines become more intelligent than humans and decide, perhaps, to dispense with us. He says that eventually much of the analysis that happens at MetaMed will also be done with artificial intelligence, and in this sense, the company represents a natural career progression for Vassar.

In Vassar’s larger vision, very sick, very wealthy people spend fortunes on bespoke big-data solutions to their specific problems and the rest of us benefit from the things their analysts learn—creating a kind of trickle-down economy for better diagnosis and treatment.

“Right now, infinite money does not get you the health care that we say that everyone is entitled to,” Vassar says. “What I have created is a context where not merely infinite money but, you know, respectable amounts of money, 99th-percentile wealth, will get you the world that we say everyone is entitled to—where a middle class can afford much better health care than billionaires get today.”

MetaMed will continue to focus on wealthy clients—“That’s how capitalism works. Which of the technologies that we see around us would be here if we insisted that everyone has to have it before anyone can have it?”—but it will share the knowledge it gains. “If what we do works as well as I think it will, in ten years it will be disreputable for governments not to take our health standards.”

So far, MetaMed has twenty clients, and Vassar plans to open a permanent office soon in Red Hook. “I could totally imagine that no one would be taking a Wall Street quant job in five years if we were there as an alternative at the same pay scale,” he says, glancing up at his temporary home. “Practically everyone would rather help people. They just don’t want to be unable to live in nice neighborhoods.”


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