You’ve probably heard stories about people being served Facebook ads for conversations they literally just had. You can sometimes chalk it up to pure coincidence, but the presumption of an ulterior method has made headlines like “Is Facebook/Alexa/Siri Monitoring Our Conversations?” as common as jokes about airline food. Whether or not big tech is actually doing this is still up for debate, but our societal paranoia isn’t really driven as much by proof that it’s already happening as it is by our collective understanding that it very easily could. Our mobile phones, and the technology within them, are perhaps one of the most important tools we’ve ever had for gathering quantifiable data about human behavior. So, the small leap to suggest that the data collected could be used to sell us Papa John’s when we’re statistically most likely to want to order Papa John’s, is realistic—if not downright expected.
But is this a viable enough possibility to forego all the modern amenities of the Internet age? It would seem from the bigger picture of modern data use (and the technology that farms it) that there’s just as much to be excited about as there is to be leery of. So, with that said, here are a few fascinating biometric innovations that your phone data is making possible. (Whether or not you feel that their constant data farming, a foregone conclusion, is actually worth it is totally up to you.)
AI Algorithms That Can Monitor Sleep With Radio Waves
A lot of people struggle with sleep these days—partially due to our obsession with our phones. It has been proven time and time again that staring at our phones right before bed has an immediate effect on the kind of rest we get. Enter MIT, which has recently developed technology that can monitor sleep habits without ever making contact with your phone. It may seem like the lucid ramblings of Philip K. Dick (be sure to check out Electric Dreams on Amazon, by the way), but the technology in practice works by monitoring radio waves around the body. So, instead of using your phone, it’s technically using your WIFI router—or, more specifically, the actual router itself. Is it terrifying to think that someone could literally monitor the most subtle movements of your body through the WIFI coursing throughout your entire house? Absolutely. Is it worth it to allow ourselves to be more attentive to our vital health metrics? Uhhh...yes? We think?
Screening for Diabetes Through Tears
OK, now let’s really dive into the Sci-Fi reality we’re collectively living in. Believe it or not, the prospect of WiFi-connected contact lenses is very much a thing right now, by—who else—but Google. Yes, we know what you’re thinking: “Google Glass 2.0? Thanks, but no thanks.” First, good memory—Google Glass WAS a nerdy disaster. Second, we think that with the increase of augmented reality project investment, and the fact that connected contact lenses won’t make you look like a total dweeb in public, there’s a good chance that it won’t suffer the same kind of downfall. However, while Google Glass was largely a cosmetic and superfluous idea, the interesting advantage of these WiFi-connected contact lenses is actually biomedical. For a long time, scientists have speculated that glucose levels can be measured through our tears, which would provide diabetics an unobtrusive, pain-free way to monitor their levels (no more finger pricks? YES!). Taking it a step further, there could be potential for this technology to also be able to help measure ocular-specific health issues pertinent to a person’s visual health. Plus, let’s be honest: Who doesn’t want the ability to watch King of the Hill reruns in complete secrecy?
Preventing Disaster With Only Seconds to Spare
This one is still a bit speculative in terms of the consumer market, but like we mentioned at the top of the article, part of what makes data-driven technology both interesting and horrifying is what we know to be theoretically possible. In this case, we already know that phones are quite capable of predicting our behavior as it pertains to our buying habits, but what happens if we break this down a little further into psychological behavior? Woebot is an app that is designed to know when a user is depressed, and can even go so far as to alert a friend if things seem particularly grim. This is certainly interesting, but let’s get more meta for a moment for speculation’s sake. Knowing that our phones can measure basic biometrics like our stress level and heart rate, what if we could detect when there’s a particular peak in our anxiety—like when we’re witnessing something stressful? And what if it were possible to do this through a connected network, with multiple people at once, to immediately let emergency crews know that there’s a mass anxiety event occurring somewhere, potentially in need of extra monitoring or immediate assistance? This may not predict when danger strikes, but it could help deliver the speedy assistance that is sometimes the difference between life and death. However, in considering the prediction possibilities—could the usage of this mesh network help predict things like construction malfunctions? Something like a bridge collapse could maybe be shown through data monitoring across multiple phones, right? Sorry to get all Philip K. Dick on you, but the future is now, friends!