Digital Phenotyping: What If My Smartphone Thinks I'm Depressed?

What if your smartphone thinks you're depressed?! Funny as Tech co-hosts David Ryan Polgar (tech ethicist) and Joe Leonardo (UCB comedian) discuss the emerging field of digital phenotyping. Digital phenotyping is the assessment of mental health based on HOW we use our digital devices, such as health trackers and smartphones. It is based on the premise that there may be correlations between how often we text, when we use our smartphones, how fast we type (motor skills) and signs for depression and suicidality.

In other words: digital phenotyping may be the canary in the smartphone.

Is digital phenotyping a canary in the smartphone?! Or is it prone to dangerous false positives?! What about our expectation of privacy? How will this be used with teens?! Does this impact our freedom of mind?! Does this known surveillance alter the underlying behavior?!

In this episode, David and Joe discuss whether they are comfortable with the prospect of digital phenotyping, how it reminds them of a Black Mirror episode, and the idea of a performative state where we are acting for our smartphone (since we know it is tracking us).

Funny as Tech is available on various platforms, such as iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher.


-Some background articles from the New York Times, TechCrunch, and MIT Technology Review about digital phenotying and the companies working in the emerging field.

-David is referring to negligent infliction of emotional distress, which is a highly debated area of the law that also varies dramatically by state (tort laws).

-Joe is referring to the Black Mirror episode is called Arkangel. In this Black Mirror episode, parents are able to have a chip implanted in their children which enables the parents to watch and monitor the child's experiences.

-David is referring to the statements made by George Soros about "freedom of mind" at the most recent World Economic Forum.

"Something very harmful and maybe irreversible is happening to human attention in our digital age. Not just distraction or addiction; social media companies are inducing people to give up their autonomy. The power to shape people’s attention is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few companies. It takes a real effort to assert and defend what John Stuart Mill called “the freedom of mind.” There is a possibility that once lost, people who grow up in the digital age will have difficulty in regaining it. This may have far-reaching political consequences. People without the freedom of mind can be easily manipulated." -George Soros

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