Transmitting from The Inside
November 27, 2007
Sometimes the future shows up in odd places. In the infancy of the public Internet, if you were poking around various gopher sites to see what they might contain, you picked up an accidental education in the mental health issues faced by American college students. [Gopher](http://www.codeghost.com/gopher_history.html), an early document-sharing protocol, happened to be embraced by compus counseling centers, which always had brochures to impose on unwary visitors. Like the internet gawkers and tourists we were, we took them. Sometimes we may even have read them. Maybe we were the only ones.
I thought of these mothballed gopher sites recently, when trying to understand why I found this [trivial item of consumer electronics](http://www.oral-b.com/us/home.asp) inspiring. The ability to measure ourselves is accelerating along a number of dimensions: the methods are getting cheaper, the devices are getting smaller, and, as a consequence, the number of measurements taken per unit of time is increasing. And another corollary: measurement is getting *closer*.
Think of the medical patient who is carefully watched for signs of trouble There is a heart rate monitor, a blood oxygen saturation monitor, and, in certain conditions, even [a consciousness monitor](http://medical.philips.com/main/products/patient_monitoring/products/bis/). Medical devices such as [oximeters](http://www.bluetooth.com/Bluetooth/Connect/Products/Product_Details.htm?ProductID=1610) are now wireless, and, as the devices become practical for everyday wear, there will be new attention to developing useful, predictive algorithms to guide behavior.
(John Guttag’s project along these lines, described last spring in MIT’s Technology Review, deserves its own post, but if you’d like the story raw, here’s a link: [TR: Personalized Medical Monitors](http://www.technologyreview.com/Biotech/18294/))
In all these conditions, the monitoring devices are brought very near to the body: they are clipped to a finger, wrapped around the head. But in life outside the hospital, such close contact to a measurement device is rare. And *that’s* why I find this crazy product inspiring. I don’t really believe that having sensors measure the pressure of my toothbrush against my teeth (which may trigger the wireless “smart guide” to issue a warning) is an important step in the history of anything – including dental hygiene. But it is an invitation to make my first Bluetooth transmission from inside myself, and the fact that this radical invitation comes in such an ordinary form is one of the clues that transmitting information via devices incorporated into our bodies will soon be seen as unremarkable.