Distributed Future Podcast - Quantified S elf

So this is the distributed future podcast, and I'm Tim,
Vim: and I'm Vimla
Tim: so uh this week with thought we kind of just touch on what's happening in in data that you can acquire like there's a huge range of stuff that you can get these days. I tripped over um for example. I tripped over a company that can do have a baby monitor that can tell the health of the baby, so like you know whether the baby is breathing what it's temperature is as part of the camera, and it's non-invasive, so it's not that you put a clip on its finger or something you can just watch it and from that you can tell it's heart rate and breathing just by watching how the image changes, which I think it's amazing
Vim: it isn't incredible and that has so many different positive outcomes that could be useful,
Tim: and it's not I mean these things arent expensive any more romantic some of these sensors are but you know you can get a a pollution sensor for a few pounds that will tell you you know how much dust there is in the atmosphere or carbon monoxide or whatever
Vim: yeah, but I still wonder how many people are actually going to be using things that how are people actually measuring and tracking their life at the moment, and what are they using that data for?
Tim: Right, I think that's actually really really interesting when I touched on that in the conversation with Matt. Which you'll hear in a bit, but um but I think that not much yet. I think people are still at the stage where we're still trying to understand that I mean I think the place where it's got furthest is probably Fitness and that
Vim: yeah
Tim: like you know if you saw the the um the running app whose name I have temporarily forgotten. Released all that heat map data, and there was a big hoo-ha about fact that they managed to expose the CIA black sites in Africa, By the fact that they were a lot of fit Americans running around in a circle in the middle of nowhere. It's like well. Where do they come from
Vim: yeah, that's hilarious
Tim: actually really funny, and they there's an air base, an airstrip on Antarctica like nobody knew about that's quite obviously there.
Um so that like this data is being collected, and we're starting to learn that that's not necessarily or where you put it is kind of tricky.
Vim: Yeah, but I think what's interesting is how we'll start using this data to make decisions every day so at the moment. We might be tracking what we eat or how much sleep we get but is that influencing the day-to-day decisions, we make right now, but should it be.
Tim: I think a lot of this if it is done well it's about kind of nudging behavior. You don't want to become a kind of slave to the machine, but on the other hand. I think knowing that you know you probably had your saturated fats for the week and therefore maybe stear clear that particular meal and or change your change your meal slightly that that sort of thing I kind of I kind of get my head around
Vim: yeah,
Tim: did you come across any kind of good examples of this in the in the work you did with City Verve because I know this was what something they were aspiring to do.
Vim: It's really hard to have a lot of the research we did on kind of a few health apps for the city um. Around that nudge behavior so understanding people's what motivates people and would would encourage that behavior change, but it varies so differently and we all have such different um relationships with health and fitness to know what that motivator is and some people were really for kind of gamifying it or trying to um even forget him a fire good deeds and things like that and then other.
The polar opposite was also true people kind of No. This is my life. This is what I want to do if I want to do something good, or if I want to change my health it needs to come from me. Not from kind of ulterior motives
Tim: right. I mean people are surprisingly hard to nudge I saw some really nice data.
There's a um there's a hydropower Micro Hydro power scheme somewhere in North Wales where they have basically have a waterfall. From from the lake and it generates electricity for the village and so you're you're drying cycle on the on your washer/dryer is cheaper on days after it has rained then by noticeable margin significantly cheaper, and they've been running the scheme for I think a year or two now and the statistics are that it makes no difference to user behavior.
People like that, but actually if I want to wash my clothes today, and I need them dry I need the dry. I'm not going to shift my behavior around whether it rained or not and by marginal price on the electricity it doesn't it's not so that I think that's really interesting. So it kind of so nudges is is harder than it looks.
I think
Vim: yeah definitely definitely, but even things like even can see um pollution monitors that. You can buy quite easily at the moment. That's what sparked my question around even if we have access to that information, and if every household took it upon themselves to buy it would it mean that we changed the relationship we have with cars for example and would nudge us to try and do more about air quality.
Tim: It's always somebody else's problem. You're driving through. That's the problem with that. Um I mean you might like if you could tie it back to a specific, you know vehicle, or set a vehicle's you might be able to say hey well 10% of it comes from the municipal bus service or whatever then you might be able to use that as a lever to say well.
We don't already polluted, but as you've seen interesting example of this. I was coming back from um. Going from Eustonto St Pancras and they actively encourage you not to walk along the Euston road because of pollution so the Signs at Euston station say if you're going to St Pancras, take this route, which takes you around the back of the British library and and up to St Pancras and not along the Euston Road.
They explicitly say that's because the high pollution levels on the Euston Road. I think it's fascinating. I mean it's like kind of. Feels a bit like giving in but yeah, but it is a nicer walk so I can't complain.
Vim: A much nicer walk. That's really interesting. Because I think that's what the Crux of what I'm gonna get is as we we still know this stuff is happening.
We know that I like using a straw in a bar is not good for the environment, but having access to the information or even collecting that data. Doesn't doesn't change our behavior, and I'm wondering where that Tipping Point is
Tim: yeah, I mean, I think it's about social influence. I think the trick a lot of this is is is around perception that it's the done thing it's like you know how you do stuff and those things flip when they flip this flips surprisingly quickly. Um you know you just have to look at fashion and stuff, and you'll see you'll see that you can change. What is socially acceptable surprisingly quickly like you know within a few years.
smartphones for example a classic thing you're like you know newspapers and smartphones basically used the newspaper on the train, and now you read a smartphone. It's like totally uh totally different Behavior, so cool.
Vim: Sorry of my last question was around sensors in an off themselves. Do you think people have started to recognize that smartphones are sensors yet
Tim: um I think the data analysis people have always known it um. I think that they we started to get a sense of that when as developers we start to get a sense of that when it was an Android API that would tell you what you were doing I could tell the difference between cycling and walking
Vim: right,
Tim: and and whether you think it claimed, although I didn't believe this, it came to be able to tell the difference to whether you were a passenger in a car or driving.
Vim: That's interesting.
Tim: Um I actually don't believe the latter one. I think that's like it depended on you happening to put it in the correct pocket of your trousers basically
Vim: okay in there,
Tim: but but nonetheless I think those sorts of like just by how the thing is moving. We can deduce what you're doing um and potentially route calls based on that was the thesis um. You know don't interrupt them if they if they're on a bicycle your less. It's less likely you want them to take a call than if there are the train so I kind of we started to see the that and that's about aggregate data.
So it takes a couple of things about you know the. Rate of you know the GPS sensor telling you how fast you're moving, but also um the the accelerometer telling you how your leg is moving or how your stride um, and I think that that was starting to be a hint about it, but then you look at like the fingerprint sensors on all of these things um you know they're not far away from being able to tell you what your heartbeat is.
Well already can yeah watch that so um. I think I think developers to and I think some people do particularly as I said the fitness yeah, but I think no trouble is course you stray to medicine though, and then there's a whole layer of Regulation around what you allowed in the medical field um and quite rightly, but it changes your in a different Dynamic at that point
Vim: absolutely.
Tim: Cool, well I mean I hope you enjoy that the conversation with Matt, and we'll we'll see how that goes
Vim: great. I can't wait to hear it. All right. Thanks.
Tim: Matt, tell me what you understand by Quantified Self. It's a term one here, but like what does it mean?
Matt: Yeah sure Tim um. I think that it's a bit of a buzzword nowadays, because like you were just saying a lot of people talk about it, but then don't really realize what um what Quantified Self is and in general at the definition is a way to use data to understand.
Um your body and you and your own behavior. Not just your your body, but like um how um to use actual data instead of just your your perception to see how you react to the world so this could be applied to food or sleep, or you can even look at your different patterns and use your GPS to see how long you spend.
At the office or in the flat and just through understand sort of what your real behavior is instead of um just just guess work so you use data instead of that guesswork. Do you agree with this?
Tim: Yeah? I mean, I think it's about as you say, it's about numbers and kind of the increasing the availability of accurate and easy to use sensors, and you mentioned GPS.
That's kind of you look at Google's data on on where you've been it tells you an awful lot. How you spend the day um
Matt: right?
Tim: I mean there may be privacy implications on that, but at least that data is there and if you use it for your own kind of view. That's great. What other kinds of data. Can you get hold of relatively easily?
What kind of data? Do you get a hold of personally?
Matt: Yeah? Um so I guess a most smartphones show you kind of how um how many steps you um you take on a particular day um or maybe even. Um. The altitude that you climb so how many um stairs or how many yeah steps you climb up or down, and then I guess sleep is something there is accessible to many people um.
It's usually needs a an app, but just with the phone. You can track your sleep, and I personally um at the moment. I track my sleep. Uh, I track my my food quite regularly, and then I track my heart rate and especially when I when I when I work out. I dropped my heart rate and my my heart rate variability, which is just a um a more granular way of looking at your heartbeat, and it tells a little bit more about your nervous system and where your body, how your body is doing in terms of recovery and performance so yeah definitely food sleep. And then uh my activity and my heart rate are the things I look at more regularly,
Tim: so what do you bench marking those again? It's kind of implied that you're benchmarking them against yourself your past and therefore presumably future self, but but do kind of look at the aggregate for population of your age, or how do you do that?
Matt: That's a great Point. Yeah, so um definitely for sleep, and um I'm just thinking about the the data. I mentioned. I I guess 80% of the time I would compare it against myself and this takes a bit of time because obviously you need to establish a baseline if you you know if you measure say your heart rate for two days that data is on a tell you much because you don't have that Baseline built over time so there's a lot of variability in it because you may be in a different place or maybe you've eaten different food, or slept in a different way, so it definitely takes time to build That Base Line and understand how you doing in terms of your average, but then you make a great point that actually is that um is that good or bad is that Baseline good or bad and and to do that um? I do look at the population especially like my age, and I recently did that for my heart rate because I thought that my heart rate was in um it was good, but it didn't match the my expectations um based on um a similar population, and so I actually looked into it, and I found out that some foods were were effecting me a little bit, but also I'm still experimenting on it, but it's really good to like be able to be aware of how things really change your uh your mood and your performance and we are we are chemical beings to an extent and so it is. You know it opens the door to a whole new dimension of improving your day and your performance.
Tim: I mean that that's your goal is to try and improve. How your day feel so it's kind of a happiness goal, or is it a longevity or what are kind of aspirations in this?
Matt: Um I would say both, but it's not really about how long my life would be it's not about quantity is more about the quality of my life. You know um especially nowadays with uh uh with medicine and Technology. We're all very likely to live a very long life, but if it's not a good life. If you can't walk you can't think it's it's not a gift.
You know you have you just have longer to wait in a way, and so I definitely. One two um you know I like to start my work early and make sure that I come prepared if I do get that longer life, but I definitely do get the longer life expectancy um and I want to make sure that the quality of my life matches the quantity and the longevity of of my life.
Tim: and you have you done something like kind of 23, or me or any of the other genetic tests of you. I mean you may choose not to answer that might not be a this kind of a bit of a personal question.
Matt: but I haven't done it yet. It's been on my radar, and um I just want to do it knowing what I will action, so I don't want the data without any sort of plan on what to do with the data because that's it's a bit of a challenge with Quantified Self there.
Very often we get say a smartphone that I can uh count our steps or asleep or maybe a fitness tracker, but then we don't do anything with the data because the data itself is is not really useful unless you look at it, and you look at the bigger picture, and you see how different things influence each other, and then you take action to do something with it, but you know very often it's easy to get confused and say okay. I'm gonna get a fitness tracker, and that's going to sort out my fitness levels all my sleep, and it's true that there probably is a. A level of investment and accountability that helps you change your your behavior, but without looking at the data. It's not really Quantified, and you're not really empowered,
Tim: but how do you how do you know what's influencing what I mean, you know we all have like a bunch of different competing demands on our lives and competing influences on our health and how do you manage to pick out I mean do you actually do active statistics on it to try and kind of eliminate false positives or kind of strip the signal from the noise? I mean how do you how scientific to get in there?
Matt: Yeah, um I guess it it depends on um what I'm looking at and also how important it is to me because it is to get lost in a lot of data, and then maybe you know not actioning it or maybe it's not actually it doesn't make that much of a difference in your and your day, so definitely I look at um for example when I looked at my sleep I changed a lot of different things like I upgraded my mattress, but also um I made sure that my room was was darker, and then I played with different things through make sure that was that was possible, but they're obviously food and food timing and even like how stressful your day is is a factor and so it kind of goes back to what I was saying in the beginning that he takes a long time to build That Base Line and for some things.
I would do it in a um sort of. In an intuitive way, which is probably not very scientific, but over time you build a certain awareness for other things that are more important say food tolerances or maybe sleep. I would actually keep a spreadsheet with the main things. That would influence My Day My for example my mood or um when did I work and I can do that with GPS so the tracks location it's a bit of a an approximation, but it's it's good enough to to tell me oh that day was was very long or.
You know even if I track my my my food and my macros yeah, that's that's an important factor for my sleep, and so I try to look at the quick wins because otherwise it's very easy to get lost in in data, and there isn't there's no. Final point you can always dig deeper and find more things that influence your day in your life.
Whether that's a call like an unexpected call or maybe not a pleasant conversation that there's a particularly Pleasant or again food um so so many things are external factors that I I feel that you have to stop at some point, but also it you prioritize it based on what matters to you, and what your goals are
Tim: right and presumably.
I suppose part of that is the things that you can realistically change. I mean you you said well
Matt: true.
Tim: Uh you looked at changing the lighting um you know darkening, or where you sleep. I mean, that's that's something that most people can kind of you know find a way of putting thicker curtains up or something and that's something you could manage and you people wouldn't necessarily think of trying.
Um. Did you get I mean just out of pure noseiness? Did you get good results from that?
Matt: Yeah, definitely I would say that some of the quick wins will sleep was that then um wearing earplugs at night. Even if I'm not you know um I don't really get woken up by sounds, and I don't think I live in a noisy area, but still that made a big difference and maybe there are noises during the night that I don't notice, but still uh so impact my my sleep um and then the timing of my food and when I go to to bed the had a big impact on the quality of my sleep both in terms of how I felt in the morning, but also looking at the graph like how much deep sleep I'll get per hour.
Tim: What was that? I mean? I haven't done that uh what does that graph measure?
Matt: Uh so on the graph you can see how so there are three phases to sleep. Uh which are light deep and REM rem and the body uh it repairs. In in REM and deep sleep in deep Sleep repairs mostly the the actual body whereas in REM sleep in repairs and and cleanse the the brain and the nervous system so the more so if you get more deep sleep and REM sleep.
You actually rest faster. You could say uh whereas if your sleep is very light. You actually are not getting the the full benefits of. Of recovery and detox from from your sleep and so by looking at the graph. You can see how many times you wake up or maybe how many times you go from the deep sleep to light sleep, which is absolutely normal because sleep is in Cycles, so you will keep going from light too deep REM Etc.
Um it just what you can improve is how many cycles you have per night, but also um how long you say in deep sleep, and it really depends on many things like um what you watch before going to bed, if you watch something or even if you are exposed to a certain kind of light, and we say the way you do right before going to bed for those maybe one or two hours is actually really important in influencing how the the rest of your of your night, and your rest will be
Tim: is that true for everyone, or is there like a you know um so what I'm particularly interested here in here is we we are talking about an individual, but we're basing it on on pretty much established scientific stuff about REM sleep and things like that which covers the whole population in aggregate, but I'm curious to know whether whether you've come across cases where people don't behave the same way that the aggregate does that make sense?
Matt: Um yeah, I can't. I can't think of a specific example though.
I you know I was one of the reasons why I look at my own data is because I feel that the general rule works on the general population, but in my applying a different way to you for example. I said that wearing earplugs was a quick win for me. You might not work for you because maybe you know you react in a different way to that.
Maybe you're in a different environment for whatever reason that my may be different, and so equally the way um you sleep. Maybe a bit different, so that's why I feel that um not just looking at the general rule by looking at how it applies to you, and how your your body your own body reacts, and and you react is important
Tim: right I mean, I actually I went to an event recently, but they said you know we want you to put a sticker on with your name on it, and then underneath a hashtag with your superpower. And I was like yeah, right and and it took me a few seconds, and I thought well you know I wasn't taking the event totally seriously, but I wrote "can sleep on airplanes".
Um as my superpower and actually it turns out it is I can sleep pretty much anywhere anytime um and so they
Matt: do you feel rested when you sleep in a say non-traditional environment
Tim: more rested than I would have been if I was awake. I mean you know it's not the best sleep ever if you're like you know because you always hear your neck is cricked and whatever but but yeah, no, I mean I actually um.
I don't sleep on trains, but that's a matter of will rather than if it gets to have yeah, that's a risky superpower on trains, but
Matt: one thing I hear quite a lot on them regarding sleep is a lot of people say things like I have coffee in the evening I can still sleep. Though that might be true is kind of ignores the quality of sleep and again how how much you rest and recover in those hours, so you know there's a difference between, and I and I'm not talkin about your your superpower is just a way that my my brain pin pong to to this tangent. Um is that the difference between being unconscious and being asleep and resting and so really looking at that data would allow you to say okay is caffeine influencing my sleep the answer is likely to be yes, but you know could be different um based on your genes and many other things, so you know whatever. It is whether it's Darkness or sound if you actually look at your data, then you are empowered to. Even make the most of your sleep, so yeah, yeah,
Tim: so where do you see this going?
I mean, you know we've talked about kind of what you do now, and what sensors are available. I mean. I I hadn't realized that my smartphone would tell me that I was would know that I was in REM sleep. Um but but like if you look a little further ahead. Where do you see that going? What sort of additional things?
Do you think might get um brought into the picture?
Matt: Well something that is missing now is um a way to give you the answer from from the data, so if you buy a fitness tracker now. Uh or even asleep tracker. There are a few sensors that you can put under your your mattress and some of them are relatively accurate and they can even measure your heart rate through the matress which is very strange I think but um you don't use to you have to look at your data, and then think about okay. Um how is this? How is this impacting me whereas the software doesn't you know they're just it just shows you a graph. It doesn't say. Oh, maybe you should consider uh going to bed half an hour earlier, and then we'll see how the changes so the software is are very proactive and there's no say no coaching from from the software is just the raw data at the moment, so I think that although that data is relatively accessible at the moment, maybe not for food food is still quite painful to track because you have to log it into an app, but for everything else like your heart rate. You can get it from a um from a. I monitor uh your step soon enough from your smartphone your sleep. You can get it from an app, so those are quite easy to it's quite easy to record the data, but it's very difficult to put the data together and make sense of the data and get an answer, so I think that as more people create that data then it will be you know we will have big data to then um find patterns, but also those exceptions will become. A pattern in itself so okay the general population does this but? We've seen a your sleep or your food or your food and says are similar to this group and maybe we can go back to that to the 23andMe DNA and again.
There's a um we see a correlation or a few suggestions that come from that and so I think that um that data, and the suggestions that come from that data will be the next big step there will make quantify the Quantified Self more more available and more accessible. To people not just at a data at the data level, but actually a life-changing and actionable level.
Tim: It's gonna be very interesting to see how that plays into medicine. I mean, I think one of the things that I'm going to try and try and tackle a little later. Maybe with a um somebody from the Health Service or something is is about how what we've just talked about fits in with.
Future Medical Practice because I mean it clearly does, but how is I think still still a challenge so that that's something? I'll try and them pull out in the next month or two I can find somebody will talk to me on that.
Matt: Yeah, and in a way slightly shift the the balance of knowledge and power because instead of just going to um to a doctor and Trust in them 100% you hold some of the data, and you know if you look into it you might have more more access to your own data than they do at least other moment and so maybe in the future that will change again with that data being smarter, but at the moment that the definitely is this there's a disconnect between the individual being able to measure and then the with a doctor or medicine sort of using that data and working with the patient or with the person before they become a patient
Tim: right, I mean, I know that there's also product liability problem about giving advice and software um anyway, so um I think that's a really nice place to kind of um to leave it if you've got any kind of final things you want to you want to pull uh pull forward, you know any final sort of things that you think are must have must say that um um.
Matt: No. I would say if anyone has any any any experiments l should try or any experiments to share we get to hear about the maybe on Twitter. Uh they can find me at MattSantorini, and that's it .
Tim: I mean if you've got any links um send them through to me we will tag them onto the end of the podcast and the other thing that we'll do is we will produce transcription of this um that'll come out and
Matt: okay,
Tim: With the podcast so great well listen. Thanks very much for for taking the time to talk to us, and
Matt: my pleasure it was fun.
I hope it was it was good for you, too. Yeah.
Tim: No. No it's great. Thank you very much. All right. Take care
Matt: take care. Bye.
Tim: Bye.