The movie Her was American director Spike Jonze’s attempt to imagine what it would be like to fall in love with the artificial intelligence in your computer, ably portrayed by the voice of Scarlett Johansson. But even if you do not fancy getting your love from your computer, it is already possible to get some pretty sophisticated fitness coaching from your mobile phone and this is likely to grow by leaps and bounds in the months to come.
In recent years, there has been an explosion in the number of so-called “wearables” – devices that track some aspect of your fitness or health and report the results back to an app on your smartphone. Up to now it has been quite basic: one app counts your steps and keeps a record of it, another records your weight.
This is about to get a major upgrade thanks to Apple’s new iOS 8 operating system and the HealthKit platform it introduced a few weeks ago. If the past is any guide, something similar will be happening on Android phones in the near future.
Now all the devices you own and their apps will be able to send their data to a central data aggregator on your phone and then relay the information to other apps or even other people, like your doctor.
For example, I have been using a fascinating new piece of hardware called the Jabra Sport Pulse, which is a pair of wireless headphones that not only lets you listen to music but has been tricked out to read your heart rate from your ear canal so you do not have to wear a chest band while running.
Previously, the data from a run would reside on one app, such as Jabra’s. But now it is being pulled through to other apps and the data are available, at your discretion, to be sliced and diced by the artificial intelligence on the phone. Soon your phone may be telling you to get off your bum and go for a walk or put down that lager and switch to heart-healthy red wine.
One free app that takes advantage of all this is Lark, which analyses all of the incoming data and then offers insights with an overly solicitous artificial personality into what will motivate you, using information provided by a bevy of behavioural-change experts and coaches from places like Stanford and Harvard universities.
So if I have been running three miles a day and today I do only one mile, the app asks: “Is something wrong? Are you not feeling well?.” Alternatively, if I am a new runner hoping to lose weight, the app will take that same one-mile run and say: “Congratulations! Would you like to be coached to improve your running?”.
“We’ve taken the data, asked how would I coach an athlete if they are trying to get to the next level and turned that into an [artificial intelligence] personal assistant,” says Julia Hu, Lark chief executive.
When the Apple Watch is released next year, it will have sensors that will tap into your heart rate and provide sleep information too, thanks to data detection similar to what is now available from Intel’s Basis watch. “With all this rich data coming in, people will have super personalised experiences with products that will understand them,” Ms Hu says.
And it will not be limited to monitoring your run. These apps can already detect data that point to such emergencies as a heart attack and alert your doctor. These may be truly life altering devices.
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