According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Apple is collaborating with UCLA to create new technology that employs face recognition and other behavioral tracking technologies to detect sadness in iPhone users.
Apple appears to be contemplating a world where your phone could tell you that your mood has been dismal by using information that most smartphones already have access to, such as your typing behavior and activity patterns.
Dr. Mitch Prinstein, chief science officer of the American Psychological Association, says, “I certainly don’t imagine that we can diagnose any mental health condition simply by using passive sensing technology,” but “I do believe that we can create an opportunity for people to become aware of significant risk factors, and increase awareness about conditions people might not even realize they’re suffering from.”
Here’s everything you need to know about Apple’s probable entrance into mood tracking.
What might the future look like if this technology was used?
According to the Wall Street Journal, the device would conduct these mood assessments using data from the phone’s camera, video, and audio sensors.
If you have an Apple Watch, the system can also use information about your sleeping habits, workout regimens, and vital indicators.
People’s facial expressions, as well as how they speak and type, including how frequently their texts contain errors, might be used to help phones understand their users’ moods.
Apple already has several well-known health-tracking features in place, as well as a Research app for optional studies like the Apple Hearing Study.
Users can also track their menstrual cycles, keep track of their immunizations, and evaluate other health markers that can be delivered in a report to their doctor using Apple’s current healthcare tracking features. The Apple Watch, of course, places a strong emphasis on health.
However, attempting to diagnose mental disease takes this type of study a step further, which Prinstein believes is beneficial.
“So many primary school students have hearing and vision examinations, and they are taught how to wash their teeth properly during class time,” explains Prinstein.
“I believe it is past time for us to consider how to incorporate emotional and behavioral health preventative initiatives in the same way.”
According to Prinstein, our phones won’t be able to diagnose us with disorders like depression, but they may theoretically tell us if we’ve been messaging our contacts less or moving less, based on our geolocation and texting frequency.
The technology could potentially provide useful information to share with a doctor.
Prinstein compares it to a friend seeing changes in your behavior, but adds that “the phone would be able to do so with ubiquitous presence and certainly significantly more reliably.”
What are the possible risks?
Given how distressing it may be to get a phone warning that you could be depressed, Prinstein believes that “it will be critical for psychologists to be involved in thinking about methods to develop tools, alerts, and information that are supportive without generating undue discomfort or alarm.”
For many Americans, access to mental healthcare is still restricted, so living in a world where your phone can alert you about risk factors isn’t helpful if you can’t afford to get therapy.
“I hope politicians see that the advancements in technology have created a window of opportunity,” Prinstein adds.
“We’ve spent far too much time providing funds and resources to those who are already in a crisis. We can introduce psychological fluoride into the water here.”
While Prinstein is enthusiastic about the new technique, proponents of electronic privacy have expressed their reservations.
This new technology would likely assess emotions using algorithms.
Recent research has revealed that emotion-detection software is prone to racial bias and is frequently wrong.
According to a 2019 study that analyzed all of the studies in the subject, there is a minimal basis for reliably detecting people’s emotions with this technology.
Nonetheless, by 2026, the market for emotion-detection software, which is used to screen job prospects and monitor children in schools, is expected to reach $37 billion.
What kind of ramifications may this have?
Prinstein is hoping that this will motivate government bodies to take action.
“I believe private corporations like Apple have identified a critical need for us to handle mental health in a different way than we are now,” Prinstein says.
“I am hopeful that the public sector will swiftly follow in the footsteps of the private sector.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, claims that this will further broaden Apple’s reach and allow it to spy on its consumers in ways they haven’t agreed to.
Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, is passionate about the company’s work in the realm of health.
“What was Apple’s greatest contribution to mankind?” you might wonder if you zoom out into the future and gaze back. In 2019, he stated, “It will be about health.”