The Big Data within you

Microsensors in your shoes compile data on where you go and what you do. Your workout clothes track your daily progress at the gym and tell you when to slow down or speed up. The pill you swallow reports back on the state of your digestion, vital signs, and overall wellbeing. And as you sleep, a headband monitors your REM patterns.

Sci-fi fantasy? Not at all. It is merely a glimpse into what might be possible through a movement called “The Quantified Self” that has become mainstream.

The Quantified Self employs technology, mobile devices, sensors embedded in clothing and wearable bands, to drive greater self-awareness by tracking data related to exercise, diet, weight and other health maintenance, financial management, learning and so forth. Almost 70% of the American adults already quantify their lives in areas related to health and wellness and this is just the beginning. Analysts are predicting that we will see even more growth in the months and years ahead. ABI predicts that more than 100M personal tracking devices will be sold each year by 2016. There are reasonable expectations that personal tracking will be a $12B industry by 2020. Investments have been huge, as well: Fitbit raised more than $40M this year, BodyMedia was bought by Jawbone for more than $100M, and personal informatics projects on Kickstarter have booked more than $6M in revenue alone in 2013.

While it’s clear these apps and devices have attracted a loyal following, most experts are still trying to figure out what to do with all of this data collected. For example, there are several challenges to overcome before using this data in healthcare practice. Quality is a big issue: the data need to be good enough to be used in a clinical setting. Not to drown physicians in a tsunami of personal data is another aspect to consider. Data streams need to reach practitioners in a format that’s easily consumable, searchable, and analyzable. Finally, these continuous data streams need to be contextualized as well. Doctors need to know what external factors could have caused, for example, a rapid spike in blood pressure or true diagnosis can’t happen.

In the video below you can get a glimpse on how the Quantified Self is already changing our lives. If you want numbers that show the blooming business of data have a look to this article published in Harvard Business Review. If you prefer a written introduction to the field you will probably enjoy this report at The Economist.

Who has the flu today in the world?

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Launched in 2008 in the US by Google.org, Google Flu Trends is more powerful than ever. In case you are not familiar with this web service, Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to provide up-to-date estimates of influenza activity for more than 25 countries. The method was proven, as estimates based on Google search queries very closely match traditional flu activity indicators, such as the data provided by the US Centers for Disease Control. 

So who has the flu today in the the world? As you can see, the Southern Hemisphere is more affected than the Northern one – not so surprisingly, as it is winter there – with highest rates in Chile and South Africa. While the flu might not seem of high concern to developed countries anymore, thanks to vaccination and effective medication, the “swine flu” pandemic of 2009 proved us all wrong. It is also true that in the globalised world we live in, pandemics can now develop faster than ever, and this is where Google Flu Trends comes handy: according to an article by The New York Times, Google Flu Trends can predict regional outbreaks of the flu up to 10 days before they are reported by traditional flu surveillance. No need to mention that this makes the web service a powerful tool to identify disease activity early on and respond faster, so to reduce the impact of both seasonal and pandemic influenza.

Note that Google now also provides estimations for Dengue trends around the world.