Your new phone may be able to tell if you are depressed

Your new phone may be able to tell if you are depressed
(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

In your latest entry from the “What Could Possibly Go Wrong” department, a new report from Gizmodo informs us that Apple is looking to add more helpful features to the iPhone to keep you in top condition. But now they are going far beyond helping you count how many steps you take each day or the calories in all of your meals. The iPhone that you purchase in the not-too-distant future will reportedly be able to monitor all sorts of things about you without even being asked. And it will analyze all of that data and draw conclusions as to whether or not you might be suffering from depression, excessive anxiety or undergoing some form of cognitive decline. There’s no word yet as to whether or not it will be able to report your symptoms to your doctor or the police, but I’m sure that’s just a matter of time. Welcome to the future, folks. Your phone will soon intervene on society’s behalf and potentially replace your therapist.

It’s been widely reported that Apple is working on developing a number of advanced health tools, ranging from blood glucose monitoring to body-temperature-based fertility. Now, a new report claims that Apple is also working with the University of California, Los Angeles and pharmaceutical company Biogen to see if its gadgets can detect depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline.

Citing anonymous Apple sources, the Wall Street Journal says that iPhone sensor data could potentially be used to detect patterns associated with mental health conditions and cognitive impairment. These are two separate research projects. Apple’s partnership with UCLA is reportedly codenamed “Seabreeze” and focuses on depression and anxiety. Meanwhile, its partnership with Biogen is dubbed “Pi” and centers around mild cognitive decline, according to WSJ.

There are few notable takeaways from the WSJ report. For starters, the UCLA project reportedly involves data from iPhone cameras, keyboards, and audio sensors. It also takes into account Apple Watch data related to movement, vital signs, and sleep. This includes everything from facial expressions, speaking patterns, walking pace and frequency, typing speed, content, and a variety of other health metrics.

If you really want to go all-in on using your phone as your new doctor, the tie-in with Biogen suggests that you will be able to voluntarily allow the device to test biological samples. For example, it may be able to test for levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, in your hair.

But even if you don’t want to pluck out your hair or roll up your sleeve and allow the phone to collect a blood sample (allegedly not an option… yet), it will be able to look at all sorts of other data and draw preliminary conclusions. The phone will be able to analyze the text that you type to see what sorts of errors you are making and if any new patterns are emerging. Some of these could indicate certain forms of cognitive decline. I can think of a few elected officials who might want to give up their iPhones before very long.

The phone will also examine your selfies, looking for different facial expressions and interpreting what they might mean. Are you looking sad? Are you excessively happy or weepy without a rational explanation? Then there’s the tone of your voice when you record videos or voice messages. All manner of things might be hinted at from those clues.

Is this really something we want? Should our devices be monitoring us constantly and trying to preemptively detect some sort of mental or emotional issues? What if they get it wrong? I think we all have enough to worry about these days in terms of our technology spying on us without this sort of intervention. I can save Apple some time. I’m in my sixties and I already know I’m beginning to undergo some memory issues. I don’t need you to remind me. And I know when I’m probably suffering from anxiety or depression. It usually happens after I read dystopian futurist articles like this one. I already have a surefire detector that lets me know when I’m losing my edge. She’s my wife. But thanks for inviting us to play. Somehow I think I’ll pass.

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