June 22, 2011
On Road Speed Signs And Blood Nanosensors

An article in Wired reports about how drivers respond to dynamic speed display signs (with built-in radars by slowing down. FuturePundit wonders whether a cell phone tell that would tell you (unsolicited) when you've exceeded your calorie allotment would have a similar effect.

The results fascinated and delighted the city officials. In the vicinity of the schools where the dynamic displays were installed, drivers slowed an average of 14 percent. Not only that, at three schools the average speed dipped below the posted speed limit. Since this experiment, Garden Grove has installed 10 more driver feedback signs. “Frankly, it’s hard to get people to slow down,” says Dan Candelaria, Garden Grove’s traffic engineer. “But these encourage people to do the right thing.”

In the years since the Garden Grove project began, radar technology has dropped steadily in price and Your Speed signs have proliferated on American roadways. Yet despite their ubiquity, the signs haven’t faded into the landscape like so many other motorist warnings. Instead, they’ve proven to be consistently effective at getting drivers to slow down—reducing speeds, on average, by about 10 percent, an effect that lasts for several miles down the road.

The ability to do instant continuous testing of your blood, stomach, and other organs with nanosensors tied to your cell phone would provide you with feedback while you are making decisions about your health and diet. Would you behave differently as a result of that feedback? Imagine your phone buzzed you and you looked at it at as you walked into a restaurant (using geolocation information tied to a search engine) at lunch time and it told you to eat a vegetable and that you are already over your calorie budget for the day. Would you behave differently?

Having a doctor lecture you once every year or two about your diet and blood lipids doesn't do much to many people. Instant test results provided directly to consumers might do far more.

Update: We are headed for the Feedback Society where the number of monitoring and feedback mechanisms we use will soar. Getting enough sleep, enough exercise, the right foods, the right amounts of foods? Dedicating enough time to the study of career-enhancing subjects or to playing with your kids? All this and far more will be monitored for you using sensors in your environment and on and in your body.

Technology Review has a neat on-going series called The Measured Life. It reports on gadgets for measuring how far you walk, your sleep patterns, calories burned, and other aspects of your life.

I am expecting a progression into the social aspects of life. How about voice recognition sensors that record the identity of everyone you interact with and when you interacted with them? All your conversations could be recorded and translated to text. You could search back to find out what you promised and what others promised. Threats, fears, attempts at deception. They will all be recorded and categorized and compared automatically to knowledge coming from search engines and databases.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 June 22 08:55 AM  Biotech Society

DonW said at June 27, 2011 7:20 AM:

Good morning,

The Feedback Society could be a step forward but poses (to me) three concerns:

1. Privacy issues are also a concern. So long as I control the data and make the decisions the Feedback Society is okay with me. If it goes to the Nanny State or my insurance company without my approval, then no.

2. Will the feedback be accurate? As you have noted on this site sometimes the medical community is uncertain of the appropriate actions to take. Once I had a skin infection which the first doctor told me to treat with cold. The darn thing became the size of the Hindenberg. The second doctor accused the first of malpractice and said heat was the only way to treat it. What happens if the feedback is wrong?

3. Will feedback incite risky behavior? I heard about a bar that installed breath analyzers in the hope of getting its customers to not drink too much. Naturally there were contests to see how high you could make the numbers go. Instead of curbing risky behavior the analyzers had the opposite effect.

Would some feedback mechanisms do the same? Will people speed up when they realize no one is giving them a ticket? How fast can I take that corner?

Randall Parker said at June 27, 2011 9:44 PM:


Good questions.

First off, what flows to the Nanny State or your employer or other organizations: Depends on who is doing the collecting. One problem I see is it is much cheaper to have a central server that knows how to process real time biological sensor feeds than to have each person have their own server that processes their data feeds. I wonder if there's some way to finesse that. Run each person's copy of the latest diagnostic software in their own encrypted virtual machine (on a shared server) that accepts encrypted data flows from your home sensors and worn sensors?

Accuracy of feedback: It strikes me we will be able to adjust many feedbacks to alter our behavior. Set lines on sensor feed levels for when to flash yellow or red for example. Or our master will do the same to us.

Maladaptive responses: Inevitable certainly. We aren't evolved to be adapted to the unnatural environments we create with technology. Outside of our environment of evolutionary adaptation (as the evolutionary psychologists call it) all bets are off in terms of whether we will respond destructively or constructively.

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