Transcript: Moreton Minds

Hi. I'm Dr Erica Mealy from USC and I am Moreton Bay's Head of Computer Science and so part of my role here is to be able to help everybody understand a bit more about computer science and how it can help benefit their lives and their businesses.

And so I'm happy to be able to come to you virtually today and talk about something that I've used a bit in my research and I think is a very interesting and possible future direction.

But there's some really important things that we need to think about to make sure that we look after our own safety and security, so today I'd like to talk to you about wearable technology.

And so the thing with wearable technology is that it's something that everyone has a different opinion about. Ultimately wearable technology is something that is worn in or on the body generally, within our clothes, maybe even our hair. Some smart rings exist but most people, when you say wearable technology, they think smart watch.

And so the big ones - the Apple watches, the Garmins, the Fitbits, the Samsung Galaxy watches - these are what most people think about. But there's so much more that you can find out about yourself with this wearable technology.

But the thing is that technology itself is something that we've been looking at long before computers came to be. Originally a pencil was considered a piece of technology because it was a tool that helped us do our job or what we wanted to do in a better more efficient way.

So you could think my glasses are wearable technology. They helped me to see better which means that I don't get headaches and I can sit in front of the computer just a little bit longer, not that we need to do that in these times. But some people actually will extend wearable technology to include things that sometimes we wear, perhaps in our pockets, so a lot of people will consider their smart phone to be a piece of wearable technology.

And that's an important thing, because the difference between a smart phone and Fitbit is enormous. The great thing about Fitbits and the thing that really made it absolutely take off is the fact that it took a really complex piece of recording and information and turned it into something that was really easy for a user to understand.

We didn't know how active we are and half the time we definitely weren't active enough, but we didn't know that we knew that we weren’t active enough, but when it's flashing in lights on your wrist, it's hard to get away from.

Suddenly it went from” hmm I feel like I haven't moved for a while” to “oh my goodness I've done less than 2000 steps today, perhaps I need to get up and go for a walk” but you'll notice that not all steps count the same.

So you might go for a walk with your friend, you might have a Fitbit and they might have a Garmin, and while there's going to be differences between how many steps you take compared to them - depending on your stride length, how tall you are - it's not going to be a grand difference overall, but your smart technology might actually consider the move really different like out by a couple of thousand.

And that's to do with how we process the data that's coming in from these sensors and how we actually analyse it and come to decide on the results.

So one of the things to think about when we're thinking about our wearable technologies, and these readings they're giving us from the senses, is understanding what does it mean?

So one of the things that I've personally really enjoyed knowing more about myself is know more about my heart rate, which is something that I get from my smart watch. But my heart rate as it takes it on my wrist isn't actually recorded the same, isn't even comparable necessarily, with if I were to actually use a medical grade heart rate monitor or a chest strap heart rate monitor.

Now these devices are specifically calibrated and have to be scientifically accurate and you can bet that your cheap smart watch probably doesn't have to follow those same standards, but the thing is, if you're always comparing the device to itself you've got a baseline. So if suddenly your heart rate goes from, you know, 70 beats per minute resting to 80 beats per minute resting, you know perhaps you've been a little bit too inactive, a little bit too much Netflix, while we've been away.

And so the idea is that it can give us measures about what we need to look at and what we can think about, so if you're talking wearable technology we also have, as I said our phones, so in these we have all kinds of things from GPS trackers that can tell us, on the good side, where we need to turn when we're going in Google Maps, but it can also track citizens.

So a really interesting case has been during the COVID-19 pandemic where some governments have actually elected to ask the phone companies to give them that data so they can make sure that people who should be quarantined.

Ah so we have to be really careful. It's a very slippery slope. We have to decide where is the line between protecting society as a whole and taking away the rights of the individual, and that's part of the ethical dilemmas around technology and wearable technology that I think society as a whole needs to take more advantage of these devices. Our Fitbits, our phones, are taking so much information, more information than we can fathom, and they're storing it and then making money off our data. They aggregate it, they sell it and there's no real benefit to us outside of how we want to use that data.

So we have to take care in making sure that we are actually scrutinising these people. Who has my data? Why do they have it? What are they going to do and are they going to be evil or good with my data?

So on the whole it can be very interesting to collect societal and population statistics so to be able to say the average age of a country, the average respiratory health of a country for instance, if we look at how active the country is, how much pollution is in the country, what percentage of people are smokers, it gives you an idea at the susceptibility to that population of people to, for instance, a respiratory illness.

But you also can consider well how has done, how has data shown us that life has changed? Are people actually being more active now because they've been put into isolation and there are some data to show that people have actually increased their activity levels, the awareness of being in one small space has shown them that they need to get out and do more. They plan it into their day for what they want to do, but we're talking a lot about wearable technology and smart trackers and that's the main information right, that's what most people think of when they think of wearable technology.

But the latest and greatest things are some really exciting ones. Even from 2016 there was compression fabric. So for workouts, for instance, they could tell what muscles were activated and when you were activating and they can actually give you a load or a figure that told you how well you're activating and these have incredible, incredible applications you can consider in rehabilitation.

So if there's someone who needs to be able to reuse a muscle that they haven't used, perhaps they had a cast and couldn't use it or were immobile, now people and particularly the researchers and medical professionals can drill down to your activating the correct muscle, actually your posture’s off because this sensor says you're not doing it. And this used to be restricted to the realm of professional sports players.

So for those that like their footy in Australia, there's a lot of us. If you know in AFL you may have noticed on the back of their shoulders there's normally this big hard part, and if you look closely you'll see it in our netballers as well. And so this is actually a high-tech sensor pack that each player wears that means that they can actually determine the activity load of that player and tailor their post match and their training to be able to hit that key load, to be able to repair the muscles and rehabilitate after the lesson or after the activity to make sure that they're actually getting met optimum performance out of their people.

But we can go even further than that. By augmenting our wearable technology we can actually look at what is the technique when you get tired, you drop your wrist which is why you miss the baskets in the third quarter. These kinds of things are some of the stuff that we will actually be looking at through our computer science research program here at USC with our partners, but being able to look at, well, how does the wearable technology improve your life.

So the latest round of technology trade shows that were in January 2020 are a really great instance. So if you go on to CES which is the Consumer Electronics Show, you can search on wearable technology and you'll see some absolutely fascinating ideas - from glasses that actually have speakers built into the frames to portable diabetes tracking systems to shoes that have sensors built into them and lab on skin which is a health monitoring embeddable chip. So this time we're not talking wearable technology, we're talking implantable technology, so putting it underneath our skin.

So these days we can assume that people have devices on a lot of the time. If you see a certain type of watch you know it's an Apple watch or you know it's a Samsung watch, and as part of that you know how to act around those particular people because you know what's capable.

But an interesting one that's come to light for me is one of my family members has recently just gotten hearing aids, and so when they go for their walk they don't have to wear ear pods or ear buds, ear buds anymore and it's bluetooth connected to their hearing aid. So the podcast from their phone in their pocket that we can't see is beaming straight into their head, so they can look quite peculiar when they're walking down the street having a good laugh and everyone thinks that they're not actually listening to anything because we can't see it.

But implantable technology isn't new for us. We've had pacemakers for a long time and we can have now diabetes pumps that automatically regulate people's blood sugar.

We've got all kinds of technologies that we've used to be able to improve quality of life for people but we have to take really great care when we're doing that.

The first lot of network enabled pacemakers were hackable and that's terrifying. Somebody outside your body can choose when to start and stop your heart, and again we come down to the ethics of it.

Who can access and do we trust their ethics? Is the thing being designed fit for purpose? Are the proper security protocols in place? What happens if your heart rate data is observed by someone else? Probably doesn't make a lot of difference but what if that person observing is your private health fund and they can see how active you are or aren't, and therefore what kinds of diseases you might be more prone for.

Would you be happy if suddenly your premiums went up by 20% because it found that you spent lots of March sitting down? Probably not. And so as consumers it's upon us to be able to start to think about, well, not just how do we get useful knowledge from it for us, how active or inactive, how many flights of stairs, know sorts of things. But how do I get the valuable payback on that data that other people are getting from my data? If my health fund got it, I would want to know that I was getting some sort of discount for them having all that information about me.

There's bluetooth enabled toothbrushes which I always shock my first years with. It's like, show of hands, how many people would like to have their dentists knowing how often and how well they are brushing their teeth? Nobody has ever put their hands up, except I think one student who is the son of a dentist, but no one wants to know that or to share that information.

But it's useful information for me. I'd love to know how well my children are cleaning their teeth and if they're cleaning their teeth when they're not with me, and various other things like that that would be useful information but where does that ethically sit?

An interesting one is in the realm of aged care and the elderly, because we want to consider how to best look after our parents and our grandparents as they move on to those later stages of life.

We transition from being cared for by our parents to caring for our parents and our older Australians, and so one of the things is there's a real dichotomy in the society of the technologists around how do we set up these smart homes for these people? So they've got a lot of people who will put bed sensors or floor sensors so that when your feet hit the floor it can tell, but these people grew up and lasted through different types of wars. They don't want to feel like they're being under surveillance 24/7. They're pretty wiley and clever sorts too, so we've got all kinds of user stories where they will do everything in their power to make sure they don't trip that sensor, because they don't want you knowing that they're getting up five times a night to go to the bathroom.

But from our perspective, we want to know how healthy they are and what they're doing. We want to know, oh it looks like they've had a fall, someone needs to be there immediately. So we're looking at different ways.

So there's a group at QUT who look at a messaging kettle and I love this analogy, because the idea that you share a cup of tea with a loved one and the generation that are reaching these aged care facilities now are quite often ones that enjoy a cup of tea in the morning or a cup of coffee.

And so we can actually see oh they've turned the kettle on but more than they've turned the kettle on, they can see when we've turned our kettle on as well, and we can write small messages or send a voice clip or something that actually adds the social back into it.

The danger of technology is that we just set up this smart house and we put people in it and we don't pay attention. We don't make that extra phone call.

I love that my grandmother used to have a “I'm not yet dead yet” email. So she gets up in the morning and because my parents are one of a number and they'd all basically assume that everyone else was looking after my grandma, but the truth was there was at least one time where everyone else thought someone else had checked in, and she was actually unwell, she had a flu or a cold.

And so we a couple of my aunts instituted a morning email, so she gets up and she writes an email and it's a fantastic way to stay connected with people who are able to participate in a technology enabled world, but it's a bit like ER “hi guys I woke up today, not dead yet” kind of technology and it's almost a little bit absurd to be able to think about, you know, our loved ones and our older Australians are literally being reduced to “oh the email hasn't come”.

So what do we do about these technologies? How can we use our wearable technology? What are we going to use it for? How could it work in your business? Does foot traffic making help you? Could you be able to use different ways of advertising or different ways of measuring your effectiveness in your business?

I really look forward to being able to chat with you and answer some questions. So I really hope to see you online in the near future.

You'll see a link provided for a time and date that we can have a bit more of a chat, so until then look after yourselves, look after your loved ones and count all those steps. Bye!