‘Quantified Self’ Technology: Humans are Gradually Becoming Cyborgs—and That’s a Good ThingPosted: May 18, 2014
SA Forum is an invited essay from experts on topical issues in science and technology. This column was produced in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. Justine Cassell is director of the Human–Computer Interaction Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Read the full article here, and read more about Cassell here.
Imagine you have a great-aunt, a vibrant woman in her 70s who refuses to be trapped in a rocking chair. In fact, she holds a full-time job and insists on walking there and back, a couple of miles each way. She says it keeps her young, but you can’t help worrying. No one is healthy forever.
Like many people her age, your great-aunt follows a set routine. Before her trip to work, she stops at a nearby café for a cup of
tea, and as she walks she phones a friend on her mobile phone. After work, she likes to call another friend to ask about a visit. She picks up a small cake or a few cookies at a shop on the way. Afterward she buys groceries to take home for supper.
A big departure from this pattern could mean your great-aunt is having problems. If you had access to her cell phone records and GPS data, you could see that something was up. It could even help you tell how urgent the situation might be. If she’s quit socializing and is just shuttling to work and back, it might signal depression—you’d make a note to drop by and make sure she’s okay. If she stops leaving the house entirely and doesn’t answer her phone, you know the problem is urgent. If you can’t get over there immediately, you’d better call a neighbor to look in on her.
Your auntie probably can’t enable you to access her data directly, no matter how she might wish to. But soon you could have a better solution: an app on her phone that would scan her data regularly for symptoms of physical or emotional distress and text or e-mail you a warning if necessary. Using sophisticated machine-learning algorithms, the app could even distinguish between a yellow alert and a red one.
This is just a bare-bones example of “quantified self” technology. The term may be unfamiliar to most people, but the idea behind it is already starting to change lives—and to reshape society as a whole…(read more)