2008/01/27

Lifelogging and MEMS

Thinking about two recently-read webpages' implications as relates to the extended cold/flu I've had for several weeks caused me to wonder how long it will be until common illnesses and/or severe illnesses and diseases are monitored, studied and prevented or quickly cured with the help of the emerging technologies of lifelogging and MEMS.

The aforementioned webpages are:
  1. Kevin Kelly, of Wired and The Long Now Foundation fame, wrote a post about lifelogging, which is recording and archiving all the information in one's life.
  2. Science Daily had an article about advances in MEMS, which are microelectromechanical systems, tiny devices which can do cool stuff like monitor the pressure in a car's tires, such as the ones on my friend's Nissan 350Z.
The question triggered in my mind as a result of the confluence of the above three factors was, "How long will it be before implanted MEMS for monitoring daily health are a cost-effective and commonly accepted means of minimizing the length and impact of illnesses and diseases?"

In some ways it would be interesting and cool to be able to look at my body temperature and maybe one or two other health measurements to see the onset and changes in the cold/flu bug I've been dealing with for the past several weeks. After all, I'm an engineer and a tech enthusiast, so I like data and new technologies. On the other hand, my paranoiac tendencies lead me to worry about the abuses of such technologies. Carried to extremes, people could be legally confined to their homes, or even a room within their homes, because their body temperature indicated they were in the infectious state of some illness. And extensive research has clearly shown that allowing people in an infectious stage of a disease causes $279 billion in economic losses in the US every year. We need to be protected from ourselves whether or not we want to be. It's for our own good.

An interesting part of the webpage post about lifelogging was the point about legal and cultural questions that will pop up as parts of lifelogging become more prevalent. Kevin Kelly mentions the following questions:
* What part of your life is someone else’s privacy?
* Is remembering a scene with your brain different from remembering with a camera?
* Can the government subpoena your lifelog?
* Is total recall fair?
* Can I take back a conversation I had with you?
* Is it a lie if a single word is different from the record?
* How accurate do our biological memories have to be?
* Can you lifelog children without their “permission”?
These questions prompted a discussion today about what portion of my daily activities are fair game for other people or organizations to monitor and/or record. Luke W. mentioned the concept of reasonable expectation of privacy which was discussed in one of his college courses with regard to someone videotaping or photographing people in public. I'm ok with people I know casually photographing or videotaping me in public settings, but today's technology and tomorrow's technological innovations guarantee significant invasion of people's privacy will occur. GPS, high resolution satellites, micro and nano scale audio and video monitors, RFID, digitizing all transactions and records, data-mining, DHS laws that put government and telecom monitoring outside the reach of the legal system, and other aluminum-foil hat topics best left unmentioned make me question where technology, the US and the world are headed. They also make me want to watch Enemy of The State, Conspiracy Theory, or Mercury Rising. ...and to think that all I really wanted to do was to get rid of my cold more quickly ;-)

Taking into account the increasing rate of technological innovations over the past twenty years and extrapolating that into the future leads me to three conclusions:
  1. Lifelogging and MEMS will lead to some pretty cool and, potentially, highly beneficial personal health tools.
  2. There will be lots of dialogue, turmoil and disagreement about the proper use of data related to our personal lives, including what should be required and what should be prohibited.
  3. The best way to maximize the benefits of these types of technologies and minimize the damage they do to our lives will be to keep informed about those technologies and to make intelligent conscious choices on how we interact with them...or don't interact with them...
*****

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