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Is wearable tech set to turn us into our own Doctors?

Many people reading this article will have a Fitbit, assiduously clocking up their 10,000 steps a day. Others will have taken it further, maybe checking their heart rate on an Apple watch, logging their workouts and maybe even going so far as using the watch’s ECG (electrocardiogram) functions. 

Maybe when you have finished your workout you pop a pulse oximeter on your finger, checking your blood oxygen level… 

These are all medical checks that we can perform at home using wearable technology – and they are medical checks that wouldn’t have been imaginable ten years ago. So what does the future hold for wearable tech? Could we, in effect, become our own doctors? 

The growth in the wearable tech market – by 2024 the market just for wearable devices to monitor vital signs is expected to reach $1bn (£730m) – will be driven by several factors. Populations are getting older, research and development is improving all the time, 5G is going to lead to improved connectivity, and, sadly, the current pandemic has made everyone far more aware of their own health. 

So what will we see? ‘Worn’ tech devices such as watches will continue. But wearable tech will mean exactly that, technology becoming part of your clothes so it is less intrusive. We’ll see sensors, biomechanical and motion, placed at specific parts of the body to communicate with an overall Body Area Network system. And the future will bring ‘implantables,’ including everything from intelligent pacemakers to devices that monitor key wellness levels such as blood sugar. 

These devices will communicate with both the wearer and with their medical practitioner. The information the wearer receives will, in many cases, allow him or her to take immediate action. The medical practitioner will receive vital information, be alerted to key triggers – and will also save time, with the wearable tech gathering much of the key information on a patient’s health. 

“The age of wellness wearables is definitely here,” said one clinical director. “Whether it is middle ear devices that monitor your heart rate, the wearable on your wrist that tells you how you are sleeping, or an ECG monitor around your chest – there are so many technology developments that enhance the care doctors can provide.” 

There is, though, one potential downside. None of what I’ve described will be free – and some of the most sophisticated wearable tech will be very expensive. Could wearable tech widen the health divide between rich and poor? The answer seems obvious – and may well present medical professionals and policymakers with plenty of potential headaches.

Sources
https://www.medicaldirector.com/news/future-of-health/2019/02/new-report-reveals-the-future-of-wearable-devices-in-healthcare

Technology bringing the generations together

One positive outcome of the crisis has been the way technology is helping us to stay in touch  with each other, especially across the generations. Various apps are playing a vital role in keeping us entertained in lieu of all the social events and sporting activities being cancelled.   

As staying in becomes the new going out, we’ve highlighted a few ways to keep you connected.    

Video conferencing – not just for work!         

Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts may be effective for those working from home but it’s the video chat app, Houseparty, that has soared in popularity in recent months. 

It’s thought to be more spontaneous than the other apps as it allows you to mimic an actual house party, with friends chatting in different rooms. Previously popular with millennials and Generation Z teeenagers, adults now want to make use of Houseparty for their own connections.    

It’s getting to the point where people are attending more events in the virtual world than they were in the real one. You know you’ve really made it when you’re double booked for two online drinks parties or AperiTVs!

Inspirational ideas on Instagram 

You’ll find many celebrity chefs have taken to Instagram to offer free cookery classes during lockdown. There are lessons on everything from how to cook the perfect curry to how to bake your own bread.

Likewise, famous musicians are giving free ‘virtual’ concerts or even guitar lessons. And, of course, you can recommend your ‘favourite finds’ to friends and family. Why not challenge each other to mini contests, such as who can decorate the best cupcakes?             

Family time  

Regular video calls over FaceTime or Skype are a great way for all the family to keep in touch. Think of novel ways to make this inclusive. We heard of one family, for example, who deliberately arranged the call for lunchtime, propping the tablet up at the table so that it felt like they were all still sharing the meal together.     

Encourage grandchildren to show their grandparents what they’ve been up to. Get them to share stories, music or their artistic creations. Set up a board game challenge. You’ll no doubt find the youngsters can sort out any technical difficulties!   

Keeping fit – online

If you’re worried about what all those baking tutorials might do to your waistline, there are plenty of online exercise classes to sign up for. Joe Wicks has taken the nation by storm with his  YouTube daily P.E.classes. Originally aimed at children, these have proven equally popular with parents and grandparents. Enterprising local gyms and fitness instructors are also offering their usual classes in strength training, pilates and yoga online, so you can stay fit but keep in touch with fellow members at the same time.  

Technology is helping us to keep in touch in new ways with our friends and family through these strange times. Will the tools, which we are embracing now, represent a lasting shift in how we communicate in the future? 

Sources
https://www.ft.com/content/c7ce2ad3-7276-4d8a-9deb-21acca871082

Blockchain: What is it?

If you’ve been following the advance of technology in the financial sector over the past decade, you’ve no doubt heard of blockchain, the record keeping technology which had its first real world application with Bitcoin. It is often described as a “distributed, decentralised, public ledger.” Though there are simpler definitions out there.

Importantly, blockchain has been cited as having the potential to significantly change the way we carry out financial transactions online. So what does it all mean?

At blockchain’s most basic level, it’s just that – a chain of blocks. The block is a piece of digital information which is stored in a public database, the chain. Rather than having one entity looking after the books, you have many computers working together. 

What is a block? 

Blocks are made up of three chunks of information:

  1. Date, time and amount.
  2. The transaction participants. Though instead of using your name, your purchase is recorded without any identifying information – you have a unique digital signature, kind of like a username. 
  3. Each block stores information that distinguishes from other blocks and is referred to as a “hash”. Think of it as a unique code to record the transaction. 

How does it all work?

When a block stores new data it is added to the blockchain. However, four things must happen for it to do so:

  1. A transaction has to occur.
  2. The transaction must be verified. This is usually done by a large network of computers across the globe. 
  3. The transaction must be stored in a block. Often with many other transactions. 
  4. The block must have its own unique hash. 

When that new block is added to the blockchain, it becomes publicly available to view. That’s right, anyone can see it. Looking at Bitcoin’s blockchain, you can see that each block has a time, a location and who it is relayed by. 

Is it private?

Anyone can view the contents of a blockchain. Users can also opt to connect their computers to the blockchain network. Their computer then receives a copy of the blockchain which is updated automatically when a new block is added. This might mean that a blockchain has thousands (sometimes millions) of copies. With such information being spread across such a wide network, it makes it very difficult to manipulate. Think of it as a massive verification network. 

The only information about users is limited to their digital signature or username. 

Is it secure?

Blockchain is, for the most part, secure. After a block is added to the end of a blockchain, it’s difficult to go back and edit the contents. Say a hacker wants to edit a purchase you’ve made on Amazon so that you made two purchases instead of one. When they edit the purchase it’ll change the hash (the unique code). A block contains both the hash of the current block and the hash of the previous block. 

In order for a hacker to change a single block, they would need to change every single block after it on the blockchain. Recalculating all those hashes would need an immense amount of computing power. The cost of organising an attack would vastly outweigh the benefits. 

So there you have it…

A quick summary of blockchain and how it works. If you want to get into the nitty gritty and find out more, the web is full of information on how it works and how it may change the way we do things in the future.

Sources
https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/blockchain.asp

https://www.blockchain.com/btc/blocks/1566913438346

https://bitcoin.org/en