The popularity of fitbits and other devices for monitoring activity, sleep, diet and mood suggests that we may be well on the way to a culture of lifelogging, or QS – the ‘quantified self’ introduced by Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly in 2007. Engineers are at work developing a huge array of systems for other kinds of real-time biosensing and biomonitoring devices (implants and optoelectronic devices such as ‘smart tattoos’), capable not just of tracking cardiac, physiological and cerebral states, but also delivering medications and ‘phoning in’ data to medical and other services via mobile devices. At the same time, we may find our built environments beginning to function as smart interface systems for monitoring and maintaining wellbeing.
Such developments are full of promise, suggesting the possibility of enhancing and extending bodily functions both in subjects suffering from medical conditions and in the healthy. They may provide the possibility of much more fine-grained and accurate diagnosis, as well as allowing for new treatments and understandings of disease, and encouraging lifestyle and behaviour change. Devices and systems of this kind may have a very important part to play in a move away from generalised to personalised medicine. They may also pose challenges, not just for engineers and healthcare professionals, but for the subjects and ‘users’ of such devices. How will the ‘measured life’ be experienced? How will reassurance and anxiety be balanced in such a regime? Can we expect to see addiction and other kinds of compulsive dependence on such devices? Is a technological self-care of this kind a sinister form of-surveillance? What part could such forms of monitoring play in the development of participatory and predictive/preventative medicine? How far is well-being compatible with such high levels of self-attentiveness? Huge gains in understanding are possible through the accumulation of large amounts of real-time data spread across populations, even as this possibility raises serious concerns about security and confidentiality. If we are intimately connected as biotransceivers to information networks, how do we secure such systems against hacking, spying and interference? What kinds of legal frameworks will need to be devised to govern the use of such devices?
Convened by Steven Connor, the PHG Foundation and CRASSH are running a series of seminars from Autumn 2018, allowing for the exploration of ideas by experts from the worlds of engineering and medical policy, social sciences and humanities, and thereby bringing technical and human perspectives into communication. We will seek to identify the most distinctive opportunities and new medical possibilities as well as the faultlines and pressure points in this emerging area, the most urgent, difficult or unexpected problems that demand investigation.
Please email Mette H. Rokkum Jamasb to register interest.