Sunday, July 04, 2010

Automated nourishment

An interesting question arose from discussions at the recent IFTF annual forecast presentation - Would people be more or less healthy in a possible future era of 3-D food-printing on-demand?

Both sides of the case can be seen. The immediate conclusion might be that if anyone could print any food item on-demand any time, people would over-consume and be less healthy.

However, one of the biggest mistakes that can occur when considering a potential future advance is thinking of it in isolation and not bringing forward all other aspects of technology and society to this point too. In an era with on-demand 3-D food printing, other changes are also likely to have occurred. The first and most obvious is that perhaps food content or accompanying supplements, drugs, and nutraceuticals have changed to mean that food that tastes good is not necessarily unhealthy, even when consumed in large quantities. Non-fat non-sugar substitutes may have become seamless matches in the quality of taste but not in caloric consumption. Today’s unhealthy foods could go the way of cigarettes. Automated calorie consumption data collection might finally be possible.

A second argument for why people would be more rather than less healthy in an era of on-demand 3-D food printing is the massively granular physical tracking and biofeedback tools that could exist for each person. Smarthouse and smartclothing data collection through scanning and air, toilet, and unnoticeable blood stick diagnostics could be inputs to a continuously updating personal digital health model (e.g.; the future analog to Entelos's virtual patient or Archimedes's virtual twin). A personal digital health model could be used to assess exactly which real-time nutritional adjustments are needed by an individual. An automated menu plan from the kitchen printer may be preferable for creating meals based on an individual’s known preferences and reactions together with real-time needs. The portable personal digital health model could be permissioned into restaurant settings to similarly allow for customized meal synthesis.

A third argument comes from considering the potential trajectories of social networking and behavior change research. Already peer social networks have a strong influence on individual behavior. One’s whole peer network or interest group could be encouraging healthy behavior via team-based support and/or competition. The advent and widespread adoption of self-tracking and social interaction tools could bring about a new sensibility and personal responsibility for health self-management. Optional financial incentives from insurance companies could further facilitate behavior change.

In any possible future, there could be different technologies and social behavioral norms influencing the process of human nourishment. Food could become healthier over time and unobtrusive self-tracking tools and financial incentives could shift people to automated menu plans. Healthier behavior could be triggered just by making it easy.

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