Apple believes that iPhones could be used to detect depression, anxiety, as well as cognitive decline. Gathering digital clues over time, Apple believes that iPhones could do more to help in diagnosing depression and cognitive decline. This though, in turn, means that iPhones will use health data collected from physical activity as well as sleep patterns.
This raises privacy concerns, but Apple aims to ensure that all the diagnosis work is carried out on the device without uploading any data on the survey. As per a Wall Street Journal report, Apple is working with the University of California, Los Angeles, and pharmaceutical company Biogen to build a reliable detection algorithm by identify signals found in iPhone users’ biometric data, including sleep patterns, mobility and the way you type on your iPhone. So two separate projects, working towards a common goal.
The UCLA study will track data for 3,000 volunteers starting this year. In contrast, the Biogen study hopes to recruit 20,000 people to participate over the next two years, around half of which will have risk factors for cognitive impairment.
The report also stresses that the work is in very early stages, and there is a chance that it might result in, well, nothing. While it is evident that things like depression and other mental illnesses lead to different smartphone usage patterns, the challenge is creating reliable algorithms that are reliable enough to accurately figure out the conditions because mental illnesses are still some of the most complicated forms of illnesses.
At the same time, Apple executives are said to be optimistic. The WSJ report states that Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, who oversees Apple’s health unit, has spoken enthusiastically to employees about the company’s potential to address surging rates of depression and anxiety as well as other brain disorders, according to people who have heard him talk about the efforts.