Apple is testing ways to use AirPods as a health device

When you think about how intricate the smartphone has become in our daily lives, it’s easy to forget that a little over a decade or so the technology didn’t even exist. Now my iPhone is essentially an extension of my body; it’s my social life, my wallet and now my COVID-19 pass. Smartphones are already used for medical purposes: screening for conditions ranging from autism to pancreatic cancer, management of ultrasound probes and even heart monitors… The list goes on. And believe it or not, but soon enough this slim and sleek device in your pocket, powered by a tiny silicone chip, could even be used to monitor your own state of mind.

IPhones may soon detect mental health issues and cognitive decline

A recent report by The Wall Street Journal announced that Apple will work on ways to help detect and diagnose conditions such as depression, anxiety and cognitive decline using iPhones. Researchers working on the project hope that collecting and analyzing data, such as mobility and sleep patterns, will help stop certain behaviors associated with mental health problems.

It was reported that other measurements could also be used to collect data, including analysis of facial expressions, as well as heart and respiratory rates. While it may seem invasive at first glance, Apple has reassured users that no data will be sent to their servers, with all processing taking place at a localized level, strictly on the device only. My advice? Take this with a pinch of salt.

While the idea of ​​using emerging technologies to improve mental well-being is not a new phenomenon, it has actually been in the college pipeline for quite some time. The University of california is studying stress, anxiety and depression using data from Apple watches and iPhones. Currently, 3,000 volunteers are used in the study which is due to begin this year after the start of a successful pilot phase in 2020, recording data from 150 volunteers. The research will be used to guide Apple in its quest to create technologies that supposedly makes us happier.

In addition to detecting mental health issues, Apple is also refining its sites to better combat cognitive decline through assisted technology. One of the most influential studies in this challenge is conducted by the pharmaceutical company Biogen. The multinational research will analyze how monitoring data, collected by 20,000 iPhones and Apple Watch, could help identify links between physical activity levels, smartphone use and cognitive functions. The goal: to use these particular data points to track brain function over time, in the hope of detecting mild signs of cognitive impairment, which could progress to more sinister disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease-as soon as possible.

The study will follow a preliminary investigation conducted by Apple with Eli lilly (another US pharmaceutical company) to discover the links between the use of technology and cognitive function. In 2019, researchers found that people already diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment or dementia typed slower, texted fewer, and used devices more erratically than those with healthy cognitive function.

The good the bad and the ugly

So the scientific and objective data are somewhat unanimousat least by suggesting that emerging technologies could be beneficial in helping us detect both mental health problems and forms of cognitive impairment. But the question of whether we should is much more complex. At first glance, this seems like a no-brainer – it could help detect (and protect) people from often debilitating illnesses and ultimately benefit the lives of millions of people. Second, in 2021, with the vast majority of the population owning a smartphone, this would be a simple and convenient way to monitor our health. Damn, we use it to track our footsteps, our sleep schedule or our favorite take out pizzawhy not donate another part of this valuable data?

But this is where things get complicated… How much do we trust big tech companies with arguably the most sensitive, private and personal data we have, our own mental state? Additionally, although there is scientific support behind this project suggesting that it could be implemented with little or no diagnostic errors, there is always the possibility that a device will make an error.

The repercussions of misdiagnosing a mental health problem purely due to data error could be incredibly damaging. Taking the placebo effect into the equation, it could lead someone to believe that they actually have the disease, to such an extent that they actually develop the disease. And don’t even get me started on data breach issues. Although, admittedly, the risk is minimal due to the fact that Apple has so far promised us that all data will only remain on localized devices.

It all sounds a bit ironic, especially since addiction to smartphones and social media has been shown to have negative effects on our mental well-being. In the end, however, I think it was only a matter of time before large tech companies latched onto the emerging psycho-tech market. And putting the ethical issue of privacy aside, it looks like Apple’s new venture could help countless people across the globe. The pandemic has, unfortunately, put mental health at the forefront of our minds and technology like this may be one of the key solutions to the problem. Only time will tell if Apple has finally made the well-being of people its number one priority. For now though, I wouldn’t put my money (or my data) on it.

IPhones Could Soon Monitor Your Mental Health And Diagnose Depression

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About Roberto Frank

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