Technology can be both empowering and enabling. It provides us with more information than we can ever use. Our cell phones bring all of this wonder to our fingertips.
But armed with all of this information we may feel more qualified to make decisions that may take more expert, informed knowledge than our smart phones first deliver.
BiAssist (not yet in the app store) is an app developed at the University of Illinois at Chicago that developers claim can predict manic episodes in those with bipolar disorder.
The developers surmise that since people in manic episodes talk fast, they must text fast, too. They also believe that the reduced impulse control in someone manic would lead them to use spell check, or spelling overrides, less often.
So when a user starts typing faster than usual and begins to disregard how things are spelled, the app will send an alert that they have entered a manic episode.
For this the developers are finalists in the Mood Challenge, a contest seeking ways to use apps to gain information about mood disorders. They have accepted a $100,000 grant.
Am I the only one who thinks this is silly, and potentially dangerous?
I believe there are methods, such as the careful focus of meditation, that can help people predict their own mood changes. Maybe technology can yield similar results. But if I’m frantically typing away and my phone tells me I’m going manic, how am I likely to respond?
And given the data that every app on every phone collects about us, what algorithms are going to be triggered by the alert that I’m in an episode?
I can see the future of this technology. Once alerted, push notifications will direct me to mobile, AI enhanced therapy services making it less likely that I will sit face to face with a qualified professional. And my news feed will fill with articles about medicines that can help me.
People have a tendency to self-diagnose, and the information this app will trigger will lead to people making decisions for themselves without the input of more qualified professionals. All at a time when the machine tells them their impulse control is inhibited.
Get the conundrum?
Technology and searchable, unverifiable information have already combined with pharmaceutical company marketing to make bipolar disorder overdiagnosed and overtreated.
The information provided by BiAssist is even less informed and less complete than that currently offered on-line. What poor decisions will people make when their phone tells them they are going manic?
I may be wrong. Maybe an alert from BiAssist will lead to someone calling their doctor or implementing a plan they and their doctor or therapist previously worked out to intervene when an episode begins.
Or maybe this technology will further erode our belief that we need experts and convince us that we are better able to make informed decisions by ourselves.
Manic episodes are more than talking fast and poor impulse control. Grandiosity often features in mania. I know when I am in this state I make some really bad choices and, all the while, insist that I know better and that I am right. No one, at that point, can tell me anything.
Armed with the information fed through big data that BiAssist will certainly provide me with, I am likely to take charge and make some really big mistakes.
This technology risks enabling people to act this way. It also risks causing the possibly manic person to delay reaching out for more tested, complete and proven therapies.
No one feels like they can do it all themselves quite like a person in mania. I feel hesitant about giving them the technology to reinforce this error.