Is it safe?
Apple’s latest filing describes a way in which an Apple Watch can constantly monitor a wearer’s heartbeat, warning them of impending heart attack.
The patent explains the system will dial emergency services if it spots signs of heart attack. The system watches physical and environmental symptoms, such as heartbeat, motion, temperature or even elevation and emergency alerts can automatically be sent to pre-created lists of contacts
The patent isn’t confined to heart attacks, it could potentially monitor numerous forms of crisis, including things like car accidents, muggings or anything else the built-in accelerometer, heart monitor, microphone and other sensors can detect.
While the existence of the patent does not mean the company will launch the service, it is a solution that’s bang on industry expectation, with many analysts predicting millions of workers will soon be required to use these monitoring technologies to keep their jobs.
Wearing connected devices of this kind will slowly become near compulsory, which is likely to make readers of The Book of Revelations, We or 1984 uneasy.
Why will this happen? Health insurers are already introducing insurance packages in which use of solutions like these is encouraged in exchange for lower premiums. Company health insurance policies will also see this introduced, meaning wearing of such things will become part of what you need to do to keep your job.
Government, road transit chiefs and emergency services will also want this to happen, partly to reduce the cost of caring for an aging population and partly to help create smart city and transit systems.
That's not to say there will be no benefits, of course -- researchers very recently claim to have made early stage progress on sensors that can detect cancer inside 15-minutes. If that technology can be proved then early identification of cancer symptoms through connected wearable sensors could save lives, but this won't happen yet.
Health becomes better regulated than privacy
Regulation remains a stumbling block for health-based solutions. Apple CEO, Tim Cook, alluded to this earlier this year when he conceded that the company last year had to abandon some of the health-related features it had hoped to introduce in the first Apple Watch because of the length of time regulatory approval takes.
“We don’t want to put the watch through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) process,” he told the UK Daily Telegraph. “I wouldn’t mind putting something adjacent to the watch through it, but not the watch, because it would hold us back from innovating too much, the cycles are too long. But you can begin to envision other things that might be adjacent to it -- maybe an app, maybe something else.”
Cook also shared a heart-related story concerning a US high school football player, whose life was saved when his Apple Watch detected his heart rate had become elevated in response to the early onset of wider organ failure.
Surveillance and security
The potential to save lives is huge – but there is also a threat: As connected devices gather increasing quantities of information, people’s lives become easier for criminals to monitor and steal – identity theft, burglary and bank fraud become as easy as getting into a person’s private files and the depth and personal nature of the data collected by these devices should make any user security conscious.
While the promise of connected health is huge, in order for these benefits to be fully realized people need to be certain their details are completely secure.
It is precisely the kind of certainty that is being directly threatened by the ongoing struggle between Apple, other tech firms, and the FBI, according to Apple and its allies. This is why the outcome of that struggle is so critical. Though if the decision goes against the company then the entire tech industry will have all the excuse it needs to ignore such concerns in future.
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