Sunday, April 28, 2013

Quantified Self Fourth Person Perspective and Self 2.0

Quantified self trackers1 are having an increasingly intimate relationship with technology and data flow in mediating their experience of reality. Technology effectively opens up a new perspective (as vaunted by Nietzsche), a fourth person perspective – a new and objective view of the self, possibly on the road to creating the overself (self 2.0). An important and radical aspect of quantified self (QS) activity is its inherent linkage of the former binary of quantified and qualified in three important ways:

1) The QS Act Itself 
The very act of QS’ing fundamentally includes both the collection of objective metrics data and the subjective experience of the impact of these data

2) QS’ing the Qualitative 
QS methods are now being applied to the tracking of (formerly objectively inaccessible) qualitative phenomena such as mood (e.g.; tracking qualitative word descriptors or mapping subjective experience onto quantitative scales)

3) Quant-Qual are part of a Larger Phenomenon 
To understand QS’ing is to see that it is part of a larger more complex process in which the quantified data collection and the qualitative experience of the data are nodes in feedback loops for behavior change. Data, information, understanding, and action are constituent parts of the looping process

1Quantified self activity: the self-tracking of any kind of biological, physical, behavioral, or environmental information, often with a proactive stance towards action

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Venter's Deep Linkage: Microbiome, Synbio, Genomics, and Computing

As usual, Craig Venter’s remarks on April 16, 2013 at UC Berkeley did not disappoint - they were inspirational, informative, and demonstrative of progress. Of note is the multidisciplinarity amongst different branches of his labs’ work, for example using synthetic DNA to perform genomic error correction in stem cell operations, genome transplantation between yeast and bacterial species, and linking microbiome activities to pathology and synthetic biology/biofuel synthesis. Some key points were:
  • Microbiome – YASP (yet another sequencing problem) – While the human genome is currently thought to contain about 42,000 genes, the microbiome has 10 million genes across diverse phyla, taxa, and species 
  • Biofuel – to obtain engineered algae with the desired phenotype that would be a viable alternative to oil, 300 parameters must be engineered 
  • Gene function – even in the minimal genome for Mycoplasma genitalium, there are 50 genes whose function is unknown 
  • New gene discovery – so far in general scientific discovery, 80 million genes have been found, 95% from ocean water sampling; again in these ‘design components for the future,’ function is unknown 
  • ‘Digital phenotype’ is needed for health advance and big health data stream integration – an extended EMR with standardized transmittable digital data for all manner of phenotypic data, both phenotype 1.0 (e.g.; health history, prescriptions, lab results, etc.) and phenotype 2.0 (e.g.; digital omics profiles like proteomics and metabolomics).

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Human Microbiome: Futurist Augmentation Platform

The human microbiome is essential in working symbiotically with the human (and indeed all animals) for nutrient synthesis and pathology prevention. However, the large numbers of microbial populations are complicated and dynamic which makes it challenging to profile their activity and construct meaningful interventions. The 14th Annual Microbiology Student Symposium, held at UC Berkeley on April13, 2013 addressed some of these issues (conference program). 

There is tremendous microbiomic variation between individuals – a person’s gut microbiomic signature is perhaps as uniquely distinguishable as a fingerprint. There may be variability within the individual too, but there is a strong trend to persistent populations over time. The microbiome adjusts quickly to dietary and environmental change, within a day, and can shift back just as quickly. If certain populations are wiped out, other substitute species within the same taxa or phylum may emerge to (supposedly) fulfill a similar function. Pathology conditions like Crohn’s disease, colitis, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS, IBD) are likely to mean the dysbiosis (e.g.; microbial imbalance) of the whole biosystem (not just are certain disease-related bacterial populations elevated, but mitigating populations may be much lower. Given the complexity of the microbiome with thousands of species across tax and phyla, machine learning techniques may be useful in combining a series of weak signals into a prognostication as the SLiME Project in the Eric Alm lab at MIT has done, claiming to predict IBD as accurately as other non-invasive methods.

In the longer term, the microbiome could be the perfect platform for many different less-invasive augmentations for the human - bringing on board micro-connectivity, memory, processing, and electronic storage (Google Gut Glass?), with applications such as real-time life-tracking and quantified-self monitoring and intervention.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Identity Authentication and Security Access 2.0

Identity needs to be authenticated in more granular, flexible, real-time ways as digital venues expand and the physical world becomes more digitalized. Technology is now making it possible to rethink and provide a 2.0 update to the whole area of identity authentication and security access services.

The ubiquity of cell phones, and increasingly smartphones, means that many forms of identity authentication can be moved from costly and easy-to-lose physical ID cards to mobile access platforms. QR codes, NFC, and other wireless-based technologies are already starting to be used for security authentication and single-use sign-on for website access.

Work identity badges, hospital access badges, and government and school IDs are examples of physical-world ID cards that can be moved to smartphone ID cards. Likewise many services linking identity authentication to resource-access and mobile payment can be automated, for example, event tickets, work conference room reservation and access, medical equipment and pharmaceutical inventory access, and rental car and hotel check-in and resource access. Digital ID cards can incorporate multi-factor authentication: for example, the visual look, a custom sound or image elicited upon being tapped, or information returned from an external server as the QR code is read.