/

Wearable health monitoring electronics could show ’empathy’

Wearable health monitoring electronics are rapidly becoming less obtrusive and the wearers will soon simply not notice them, a pioneer in the field says.

“We are going to see health wearables start to move off of the wrist to lots of other places around our bodies,” says Nadeem Kassam of BioBeats.

The firm makes a range of biometric tracking software and an app that creates and curates music based on the user’s heartbeat, detected and played through a smartphone. Pressing your finger against a device’s camera allows the software to detect changes in the finger’s colour as blood flows, determining heart-rate.

But Kassam says this is just the start and that health sensors in the near future may learn so much about you that they can show something like “empathy” toward you.

 

According to David Plans, cofounder of BioBeats, his app can already tell a good deal about the user.

“We can tell that something terrible happened yesterday, according to your level of stress,”  he told Wired.

“What was it? We’re trying to work out the ethics of looking at your Facebook profile to determine whether you just broke up with someone.” 

In the past Plans has warned about the strengths and the dangers of biomedical monitoring.

Earlier this year he warned of the potential for misuse.

“If you know a nonagenarian is going to have stroke in two weeks you can deal with that without hospitalising them; and hospitalising them costs the National Health Service a huge amount of money.”

But with these exciting potential advances come other possible uses. Plans worries some organisations are more interested in using wearables and the data they collect for “sinister purposes”. In a twist he describes as “Orwellian”, he claims that “some of the insurance providers we work with want to calculate insurance premiums in real-time,” which he sees as problematic.

Bill Condie

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

Read science facts, not fiction...

There’s never been a more important time to explain the facts, cherish evidence-based knowledge and to showcase the latest scientific, technological and engineering breakthroughs. Cosmos is published by The Royal Institution of Australia, a charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. Financial contributions, however big or small, help us provide access to trusted science information at a time when the world needs it most. Please support us by making a donation or purchasing a subscription today.