What Could “Big Brother” Listening do for Healthcare?

Mike Gillam, 8 April 2015

Until recently, voice recognition was a function we manually invoked. A stream of new hardware is entering the market that listens for voice commands continuously.

Google’s Moto X phone has a specifically engineered low-power microchip that processes voice allowing voice commands to be given anytime. Amazon recently released the Echo – a cylindrical speaker and microphone combination that listens continuously to ambient audio. Apple’s latest operating system supports “always on” Siri while the phone is connected to power.

The functionality of these audio systems is typically limited: pulling weather information, playing music, setting alarms, or asking questions with short answers.

What new functions could lie ahead? 

(1) Your Emotional “Pulse.” Today our mobile phones can ambiently track motion. The company Beyond Verbal has leveraged research across 19 years and 300,000 subjects to create Empath, an API usable by apps to determine your emotional state from your voice. They foresee a time when our phones will listen to our voices 24/7 and track our emotions. Friends and loved ones could automatically receive alerts when you have just experienced a stressful conversation.

(2) Laughter Saved Forever. Ever returned from a dinner party trying to remember the best jokes of the evening? Combine realtime 24/7 voice tracking along with laughter recognition and every great anecdote and story from an evening could be saved to be posted and shared with friends later. The future youth could have a FaceBook timeline which almost automatically saves every moment of laughter from a lifetime. Will having this lifetime of memories accessible change reminiscing in our geriatric years?

What other audio breakthroughs lie ahead in healthcare as we move into a world where audio is a continuous stream heard by digital ears that never sleep?

Mike Gillam, MD, FACEP  2015

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