Sunday, January 25, 2009

Personal environmental measurement

Quantified self-tracking is the regular collection of any data that can be measured about the self such as biological, physical, behavioral or environmental information. Additional steps may include the graphical display of the data and a feedback loop of introspection and self-experimentation.

So far a lot of quantified self-tracking has focused on measuring personal biomarkers (genomic and other biological data such as cholesterol, blood pressure, hormone levels, etc.) and behavior (exercise, calorie expenditure, sleep, weight, nutritional intake, time management, memory improvement systems, sexual activity, baby kicks from the womb, etc.). In addition to measuring these biomarkers and behaviors, another important area to evaluate is one’s environment, trying to answer…how toxic is my environment and what can I do about it? What is the quality of the general indoor and outdoor area around me and how are the specific products I use impacting me?

1) Measuring one’s personal environment
Two key personal environmental monitoring efforts are the UCLA Center for Embedded Networked Sensing’s participatory urban sensing project which uploads location data from GPS-enabled mobile phones to a central repository and generates Personal Environmental Impact Reports. A second effort is OpenSpime’s Internet-connected geosensors, being developed to capture ongoing real-time readings of pollution and other air quality indicators and automatically log the information to a collective display built on Google Maps.

2) Measuring one’s chemical body burden
Assessing body burden, or chemical body load counts is measuring the cumulative impact of exposure to toxic substances in the environment. Personalized chemical testing services generally focus on pollutants, evaluating the levels of selected pesticides, flame retardants, PCBs, dioxins and other substances. One example is the environmental scan conducted by Axys Analytical Services for David Duncan in the ExperimentalMan project. Environmental screening may also be conducted by hair analysis tests that assess exposure to toxic substances and perform nutritional analysis.

3) Measuring the toxicity of one’s personal care products
The toxicity level of personal care products such as soap, shampoo and cosmetics can be queried from the Environmental Working Group's Skin Deep Cosmetic Safety Database.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Future Phone

Compared to the cell phone of tomorrow – the omni-function imbedded or external mini-peripheral perhaps with the processing and communications capability of today’s supercomputers – the contemporary smartphone may look even more primitive than 20-year old cell phone bricks look today. The future phone may not even be visible.

The contemporary cell phone has many features: voice and data communications, a camera, music player, contacts, calendar, data storage and games to name a few. Texting, VOIP and data links have reduced the imperative of traditional voice telephony to a mere offering in the feature suite. The many functions of the cell phone could easily keep proliferating.

Other obvious features
Miniaturized headsets could become earring-sized objects for external wear or internal implantation. Subvocalization technology could allow everyone to talk silently and privately all the time without disturbing others; one side effect could be that world intelligence units attempt to develop throat-reading skills. 3D projection technology could be used for a visible full-size keyboard and navigation, video, gaming and entertainment applications.

Detachable components
Cell phone components could be retractable or detachable, such as clipping the handsfree headset into the handset body for storage. The accelerometer (now standard componentry of the iPhone and G1) could be detached and popped into a belt or armband for exercise or sleep measurement or elder monitoring. USB ports could be pulled out for universal connectivity to external hardware. The camera could pop out to an unobtrusive ear, forehead or hat anchor-point to capture continuous streaming video as a life-cam rig, accompanied by continuous audio recording. Life-cammed AV could be streamed via the net to a storage location, ideally in a tagged, parsed and abstracted form.

Positively-unobtrusive technology
Once mobile processing is more rigorous and automated data access occurs through machine environment sensing, positively-unobtrusive technology can happen.

Positively-unobtrusive technology is when one’s data environment makes unobtrusive suggestions for better navigating a situation.
An example would be using facial recognition, location recognition and a contacts database search to display critical information on a smart contact lens such as the approaching person’s name, kids’ ages and summary of last conversation.

The farther future: sensors, microscopy, spectroscopy
In the longer-term, the cell phone could contain an all-purpose sensor, a microscope, spectroscope and other features. The sensor could provide both health and environmental monitoring, tracking biomarker readings (e.g.; cardiac event, blood pressure, breathing, metabolism, etc.) and ambient air quality and toxin exposure, serving as an early warning system. Microscope-on-a-chip and spectroscope-on-a-chip technology could be used for advanced diagnostics, using physical port or wireless connectivity to read recyclable or disposable cartridges of blood prick slide samples for mobile diagnosis or to determine the composition of any physical sample. Energy may be supplied via solar power (like the Nokia Morph concept phone), ambient body-heat recharging or other thermoelectric mechanism. Carbon-offsetting, organic interfaces and other componentry may be standard.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Heard from the future…

  • I don’t feel like myself in this upload anymore
  • I only got 98% fidelity in my revivification
  • You must be a newbie, you never get full reload on a reviv
  • I don’t want to be so present to my experience
  • I don’t want to remember all my memories, I want to edit out x, y, z and enhance a, b, c and…
  • I don’t want all my actions (and possibly thoughts) recorded by public cameras and sensor nodes
  • Why did I reembody as a (man, dog, robot, hummingbird, bee, network node, airplane, etc.)?
  • What is the construct "I"?
  • Is this virtual world virtual? Where is the real virtual world?
  • I think that AI over there is a few methods short of a class library

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Future of health social networks

Peer-based health networks are poised to become a powerful member of the health care ecosystem with an expanding role, possibly having influence in policy, ethics, regulation, research and finance. It will be interesting to see how health social network identity develops and is expressed since a health social network is simultaneously an aggregation of individuals and an institution with its own leadership, goals and agenda.

In other sectors, social networks have sought to maintain neutrality by “only providing the platform,” for example peer-to-peer finance sites like Prosper. It is too early to forecast what will happen with health social networks, but PatientsLikeMe as the flagship example has an on-site research staff and appears to be quite involved in administering and orchestrating the patient community, with a collaborative stance towards traditional medicine.

Internet-expert Clay Shirky notes the progressive stages of social network activity which seem to be unfolding in lockstep in health social networks: initially sharing, then collaborating, and finally organizing for collective action. In addition to external collective action, the internal peer support of health social networks could evolve into positive-impact peer pressure, for example, health social network users competing to lower key biomarker scores like cholesterol and blood pressure, using third-party test uploads from LabCorp to measure and validate the results.

Health social networks could develop into large-scale online aggregated communities with market power, providing visibility into demanded research and remedies and directing and funding research priorities.

Health social networks can facilitate long-tail medicine, allowing small groups of cure-seekers and interested researchers to meet.
One future example could be the CureTogether migraine community raising $50,000 in crowd-sourced funding, reviewing and approving grant applications, open-sourcing the research findings on the website, developing remedies and testing them in patient-run clinical trails; this is a new twist on the idea. Health social networks could become a key quantitative indicator and independent barometer of demand for medical research, a useful input to the research agenda-setting of the NSF, pharmaceutical companies and academia.

Note: The author is an advisor to CureTogether. The concept of long-tail medicine is described in more depth on p. 26 of Emerging Patient-Driven Healthcare Models.