Anatomical Analytics

Anatomical Analytics is a project I developed while at University of Amsterdam. It got the attention of UC Santa Barbara and was awarded 3rd Prize in their BlueSky Innovation Competition.

Here is the full announcement and some highlights from my project. You should know that it’s just a skeleton for a creative mockup and that we didn’t actually build the platform.

Description of the idea:

Ubiquitous computing is a model of human-computer interaction in which
small, inexpensive chips are embedded into everyday objects {1}. In contrast to
popular futuristic visions of cyberspace where we immerse our bodies inside
a virtual reality system, ubiquitous computing extends technology beyond
the borders of our screen and works like reverse virtual reality.

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) tags are commonly used in ubiquitous computing applications. RFID tags are already all around us: they are woven into our passports where they store bits of data about our identity, they
connect products on the shelf to a database which instantly aggregates an
inventory status, and they are used in certain libraries to map a book’s exact
location within the library. My idea for a technology in the year 2020 is to
embed RFID chips inside our body in order to monitor health. Connecting
these chips across a global network will allow us to manage health trends
and lead to new developments in what I will refer to as Anatomical Analytics.

The first step in this technology would be attaching microscopic RFID tags
near a few vital organs. Perhaps this is best achieved by placing small RFID
chips at locations closest to the organ and just beneath the skin; or the RFID
could be administered as an annual pill that over time would organically
disintegrate inside the body and be re-administered each year. The chips
don’t store data, they communicate data. Each tag is a listener that
transmits the current condition of the respective body organ to which it
monitors.

The data is then collected by a server and illustrated graphically
by an online software application. The software interface would resemble
something like Google Analytics, but for your body. A few examples of how
this type analysis would be extremely helpful in the prevention and the
detection of illness include:

  • The analytics would display signs of high blood pressure putting a
    strain on the kidney and therefore warn of kidney damage.
  • If you are consuming inordinate amounts alcohol the analytics could
    map out a projection to see if you are in jeopardy of developing liver
    disease.
  • In the case of someone suddenly falling unconscious, before the
    patient arrives at the hospital the doctors could receive a Twitteresque
    status alert and preparing for “A man in his late 50’s suffering
    from heart failure.”

On a macro-sociological level the data is aggregated by Anatomical Analytics
Trends in order to predict local, national and global health trends. Once the
RFID chips are in place it would be fairly easy to monitor an individual’s
location by using RFID readers that could be installed in schools, the
workplace and stores. Combining locative data we could potentially link an
outbreak of E.Coli to a particular fast-food chain; visually segment the
population based on nutritional intake data; or detect and track influenza
activity in The United States.

Of course there are many ethical issues surrounding anatomical analytics,
but I don’t think it is too difficult to imagine developments into this type of
technology over the next 10 or 20 years. Consider other examples of placing
technology in our body:

  • It has been over 50 years ago that the first pacemaker was implanted
    into a human.
  • Recently it has become popular to place RFID technology under the
    skin of pets.
  • Filmmaker Rob Spence has begun plans to install a camera into his
    eye socket. {2}

Furthermore, issues of privacy and Orwellian surveillance would be of
concern to many. Yet again any intrusion of privacy made by Anatomical Analytics is not all that far off from many present-day scenarios. A notable
example of a surveillance tool commonly used in our cars is the electronic
toll RFID tags that, in addition to charging our credit card, transmit locative
data each time we use a toll. The other – perhaps less obvious but more
pervasive – example of a locative surveillance tool is the Internet.

As
Lawrence Lessig has shown through his research of “code as law” the
Internet is actually one of the most controlling mediums that has ever
existed. And despite the fact that we never know who or when someone
might be looking at the data we leave on the Internet, we sacrifice privacy
for efficiency in our lives.

Kevin Kelly in speaking about the future of ubiquitous computing has
remarked, “Ten years ago the notion that all doors in a building should
contain a computer chip seemed ludicrous, but now there is hardly a hotel
door in the U.S. without a blinking, beeping chip in its lock. These
microscopic chips will be so cheap we’ll throw them away” {3}. My theory is
that in the future, the idea of monitoring human vital organs with RFID chips
won’t seem so ludicrous. The definition of ubiquitous computing will
eventually have to be expanded beyond ‘a network that connects everything
as it will truly be ‘a network that connects everything inside everyone’.

Notes:

  • {1} Wikipedia, “Ubiquitous Computing” (accessed January 27, 2009).
  • {2} (accessed January 25, 2009).
  • {3} Kevin Kelly, New Rules for the New Economy (San Diego: Viking, 1998), pg. 10.

Imaginative Realization, Embodiment, or Illustration of the Idea:

Below I’ve included two screenshots that represent hypothetical illustrations
of Anatomical Analytics (higher resolution versions of these images have
also been submitted). The following is a description of the Anatomical
Analytics and Anatomical Analytics Trends:

I. The Anatomical Analytics interface is a personal report detailing up-to date
information about an individual’s body condition. Anatomical Analytics
offers a wide-range of services that help prevent illness and diagnose
ailments.

anatomical_analytics

II. The Anatomical Analytics Trends interface is an aggregator of the data
collected from the personal edition of Anatomical Analytics shown above.
The interface below details potential influenza outbreaks in the United States.

Anatomical Analytics