Life-changing technology looms

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Life-changing technology looms

From the age of 26 until his death at 82, noted Soviet biologist Alexander Lyubishchev (1890-1972) recorded in detail how he spent his day. After reviewing the results on a regular basis, he plotted his activity in the months and years ahead. Lyubishchev developed a tremendous capacity for work with his meticulous time accounting but also enjoyed a wide range of outside interests.

Such precision, of course, would be difficult to expect of everyone. Most people lack the discipline to record every detail of every day and it would be even more difficult to analyze the complexities of life today. However, the rapid development of technology is providing ways to at least apply Lyubishchev’s approach to continuous assessment and amelioration.

The fusion of high-level sensor technologies, ubiquitous communications networks and the means to quickly analyze a wealth of data is enabling effortless daily recording and analysis of one’s activities. For example, sensors interacting with smartphones can automatically record routes taken, Internet sites visited and calories burned, and transmit the information to a data cloud for analysis. The concept behind this is called “life tracking,” an idea that occupied science fiction in the past. Another older concept is “life logging.” In the early stages of information technology, various devices and software were developed to supplement memories to achieve “total recall.”

How the two concepts may eventually intertwine can be seen in the Event Data Recorder (EDR) now commonly installed in cars. The device records the vehicle’s movements and is therefore like a life-logging instrument. As technology develops, the device will soon be able to record and provide statistical data on driving tendencies, vehicle fuel efficiency and malfunctions. The information can also be shared with other drivers and manufacturers. In this sense, the device will become a life-tracking device.

As life tracking becomes an integral part of our lives, what changes will it bring?

First, it will make self-improvement a more pleasurable experience. The buzzword for an increasing number of wireless products and services is “experience.” As such, people have come to need new and more pleasurable experiences to continually evolve. One result of this is a hot new trend that meshes activities and services with games. The key to this so-called “gamification” is a scoring system that tallies gains toward personal goals or victories against other users. The latter is exemplified in popular fitness applications such as Endomondo and Runkeeper, which includes a virtual competition function that pits users against each other.

Other promising changes are in health care and child care. Chronic health problems related to stress and bad lifestyle choices are growing concerns. However, symptoms vary widely among individuals and often are not noticed at an early stage. Easy-to-wear life-tracking devices such as armbands and headbands provide a solution. They record and score biosignals and behavior such as quality of sleep. With such a device, users can gain awareness of sleep deficiency that may impact long-term health and adopt pre-emptive remedies.

As for child care, along with the rest of the world, Korea’s double-income families are increasing, and a side effect of this is that an increasing number of children who are left unattended are becoming game or smartphone addicts. However, through services that use life-tracking technology, activities, behavior and problem areas can be monitored so that parents gain a better understanding of their children and are more able to resolve conflicts.

Finally, there will be a significant impact on safety. EDRs in cars are apparently making drivers more careful, knowing their actions are being recorded and the recordings will be used as evidence in an accident. Already the result is a decline in accidents. Future wearable tech devices in development will receive real-time information and may act as personal safety gadgets. Search engine firm Google unveiled a prototype of eyeglasses that will allow wearers to access the Internet, e-mail and maps, and even conduct video chats. Another feature is the ability to take and transmit photos, which may help deter would-be assailants. Google’s augmented reality glasses are expected to go on sale in 2014.

Numerous global tech companies are accumulating technology that analyze people’s gaits, gestures and line of vision to identify hidden information on health conditions, emotional fluctuations and potential needs. Korean tech companies will need to allocate their resources to this budding value-added area to maintain their IT competitiveness.

Long-term domestic trends and Korea’s well-connected high-speed wireless environment are favorable for life-tracking wearable devices. For example, Korea’s population aging is poised to accelerate dramatically. Wearable devices that monitor their health will be especially useful for the elderly who live alone and are less mobile. Similarly, the nation’s continuous well-being trend provides a broadening market for those who want to easily monitor, record and analyze their heart rate and other vital signs.

The author is a research fellow at the Samsung Economic Research Institute.

by Chae Seung-byung
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