Hi. How are you?
This question is such a standard part of every day life. One that we are so used to answering in non-specific fashion. “Yeah, fine thanks. You?” But today we can answer this question with greater specificity than ever.
Heart rate, blood oxygen and sugar, perspiration, body fat percentage: all of these things can be measured day-by-day, even minute-by-minute, by an array of relatively low-cost wearables. And from those base metrics we can extrapolate even more: fitness, and stress.
The sensors providing these measurements will become ubiquitous as their cost and size falls. Just a couple of days ago I was speaking to the BBC about printable transistors that might make it cheap enough to give disposable milk cartons an internet connection. We will certainly be in a position to connect our clothes.
You already know
So, how are we? In many contexts, that question will no longer need our minds to mediate an answer. Whether it’s our doctors, or our employers, they might know.
Already, thousands of workers around the world have agreed to wear company-issued fitness trackers feeding information back to corporate dashboards. As the NHS struggles to bring down costs in the face of an ageing population, the opportunity to remotely manage chronic conditions and detect new conditions early is hugely attractive.
Some researchers are starting to take the application of this data even further. At the University of Southern California, they’re trying to use a mix of physiological data with language analysis to predict arguments between couples and create an app that can intervene with calming measures.
This might seem absurd to us now but this is what the future cyborg life looks like: machines compiling huge amounts of data about every aspect of our lives and bodies, and returning that data to us with insight — or instructions.
Perhaps this is a way for us to be our best selves. An informed and objective conscience sitting on our shoulder, telling us to take a break, skip that donut, or walk away from the argument. But it could also make us lazy and irresponsible, passing the buck to the machine — especially when it fails to steer us.
We’re capable of so much. Maybe the focus should be on maximising that potential, developing our own self-control before we outsource it to machines.