Wearable technology like smartwatches and the related digital devices that now populate our homes and workplaces are starting to change the face of medicine, as they produce data that help us diagnose health issues, and capabilities to help treat them. On this episode, we look at the rise of personal health informatics and computational approaches to behavioral science, with a special focus on caring for children with severe autism.Cohen, D. & Goodwin, N. (2019). Sensing Behavior. What’s New podcast.
In this conversation Dan Cohen speaks to Mathew Goodwin about using wearable sensors to predict future episodes of aggressive behaviour in children with autism. The AI is picks up physiological variations in the children that are invisible to human observers and uses those changes to make very accurate predictions about the likelihood of an aggresive incident occuring in the next minute. In other words, the sensor being worn by the child is recording changes in their physiology that any human caregiver would never be able to see and then telling a caregiver, “In one minute the child is going to become aggressive.” For caregivers and parents, one minute is a significant amount of time to either prepare for it or to make efforts to de-escalate and buy more time.
And these are not so-called “black box” algorithms; the researchers can interrogate the data and, by eliminating different variables from the analysis, can make fairly strong claims about what physiological features are predictive of aggressive behaviour. Over time, as the sensors become more sophisticated, lighter, and cheaper, we’re going to see everyone wearing sensors of some kind that provide insights into our behaviour.
We all have periods of feeling stressed, angry or sad without really knowing why. While we may never know precisely why, it looks like we may get to a point where we can know something about how. Imagine getting feedback from a wearable saying that, based on a combination of heart rate, blood pressure, pupil dilation, etc., you’re likely to feel angry within the next 30 seconds and that maybe it would be a good idea to step away from whatever you’re doing and take a few deep breaths. Imagine how that might influence your relationship with your spouse, children and co-workers?
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