Apple seems to be betting more on health and believes that an iPhone can detect depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment, using a series of digital clues. The health data used would include physical activity and sleep patterns.
Health on iPhone: Devices could come to detect depression and anxiety
The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple would be working on a technology to help diagnose depression and cognitive impairment, targeting tools that could expand the reach of its healthcare portfolio. The sources would be people familiar with the matter and documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal itself. For the protection of privacy, Apple aims to do all the diagnostic work directly on the device. Without, therefore, sending the data to its servers.
According to the newspaper, “the data that can be used include the analysis of the participants’ facial expressions, the way they speak; the pace and frequency of their walks. Sleep patterns and heart and respiratory rates. They can also measure the speed of typing, the frequency of typing errors and the content of what they type ”.
This project would arise from the research partnerships that Apple announced with theUniversity of California, Los Angeles, which is studying stress, anxiety and depression, and the pharmaceutical company Biogen who is studying mild cognitive impairment. “Seabreeze” is Apple’s codename for the UCLA project and “Pi” is the codename for the Biogen project, according to the WSJ people and documents.
“The user tracking that may be required could raise privacy concerns. To address them, Apple aims at algorithms that work on users’ devices without sending data to Apple’s servers, the documents show. ” states the WSJ.
The project would still be at an early stage
Mild cognitive impairment can be a early sign of Alzheimer’s. The UCLA study will track data for 3,000 volunteers starting this year, while the Biogen study aims to recruit around 20,000 people to participate over the next two years, about half of whom will have risk factors for cognitive impairment.
The WSJ piece points out that this work is still at a very early stage and it might get nowhere. While things like depression are known to lead to different smartphone usage patterns, the challenge is to create sufficiently reliable algorithms to accurately diagnose specific conditions. However it seems Apple executives are optimistic.
“Even though the effort is in an early stage, Apple’s top executives are excited about the possibility. Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, who oversees Apple’s health unit, enthusiastically spoke to employees about the company’s potential to address rising rates of depression and anxiety and other brain disorders. ” look at the article.