Apple research could lead to iPhone that detects depression, cognitive decline, childhood autism

Apple research could lead to iPhone that detects depression, cognitive decline, childhood autism
The Apple Watch and iPhone have long included a focus on user health, but with future devices, Apple is hoping to take its health efforts to the next level, according to a new report from The Wall Street Journal.

Apple wants to use the iPhone and Apple Watch to detect even more health issues

People familiar with the matter claim that Apple is developing new health technology in partnership with several institutions. The aim is to pick up on signs of depression, autism, and cognitive decline in users.

Unlike recent health features which have been linked to the Apple Watch, these ones leverage sensitive iPhone data. The company’s expanding wearables lineup is likely to aid the health features, though.

Apple’s ongoing anxiety and depression diagnostic research efforts, known as ‘Seabreeze’ inside the company, emerged from a recent partnership with the University of California.

UCLA’s research started with tracking valuable iPhone and Apple Watch data from 150 people and is set to continue soon with the main phase tracking similar data for 3,000 people.

One of the main data points being tracked is keyboard use, in other words, a user’s typing speed and frequency of typos. The content that a user writes out may also be part of the research.

Data from the iPhone’s camera and audio sensors will be leveraged too, keeping track of facial expressions and how a user speaks. The same can be said for any Apple Watch data related to sleep patterns, movement, and general health.

Once the research is complete, Apple hopes to create a diagnostic algorithm that will automatically detect signs of depressions, anxiety, and stress. To ensure the data is accurate, everything will be compared to other sources.

If successful, the final feature would warn users and encourage them to seek medical advice. However, if Apple is unable to create a reliable algorithm, the health feature could be scrapped.

Separately, there’s no denying that such health features would require access to tons of data. That could spark privacy concerns, which is why Apple plans to make the algorithm work on-device without sending data to servers.

There's no guarantee the research will lead to a public feature

Apple’s cognitive impairment research, on the other hand, is codenamed ‘Pi’ and is being conducted with pharmaceutical company Biogen. This is a two-year project that will also track iPhone and Apple Watch data, though on a much larger scale.

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Internal documents show that Biogen and Apple will follow around 20,000 people, half of them with a high risk of cognitive impairment. It’s believed that people with cognitive decline use their devices differently.

Again, to ensure the accuracy of data, everything will be compared to more reliable data sources. In this case, standard tests of brain health and scans that track plaque buildup in the brain.

The final research project focuses on childhood autism and is being conducted with Duke University. It relies heavily on the iPhone’s camera to observe how often children sway back and forth, as well as how they focus.

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