By now we’ve all seen the rise of home assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, and plenty more to come. These small computer modules are gaining intelligence and slowly working their way into the fabric of the daily consumer’s life, leisure, and now their health. One day soon, it’s a likelihood that voice activated technologies will be working alongside doctors as a means of collecting and analyzing patient audio for greater medical insight. But what will this actually mean for healthcare and the way we approach preventative medicine in the voice assistant era?
According to researchers from New York University’s Langone Medical Center, new research suggests that short voice clips may actually have the potential to help diagnose a range of diseases and conditions. In many cases and across a variety of medical conditions, catching a disease early often leads to better treatment outcomes. With the prevention of disease constituting billions of dollars saved for many different healthcare industries, devices like home assistants, wearables, and smartphone listening devices may bring about a significant shift.
Through the use of complex algorithms, machine learning, and cataloging many vocal clips over time, researchers are hoping to find patterns of speech that might serve as signals of illness. Over a five-year study, the research will aim to determine whether conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even heart disease could be detected much earlier than previously thought possible. Cutting down the time it takes to diagnose diseases which develop over decades to a matter of a few years would truly be a groundbreaking step forward in terms of preventative medicine.
Voice Assistant Technology and Your Health
Although the science is still in its early stages and the ability of Siri to replace your doctor is primordial at best, the internet of things is only growing more interconnected as time goes on. Devices are getting cheaper and more advanced simultaneously, so the potential for widespread adoption is certainly within reach.
Other research from SRI International Marmar is similarly evaluating the potential for voice assistants to identify signs of PTSD in veterans. Already, the research has indicated that 30 characteristics out of the 40,000 total features recognized are showing a 77% accuracy rate of identifying PTSD. The Mayo clinic is also using an app that has found 13 different vocal features to be associated with heart disease from a trail of 150 patients.
And while there is the potential for voice assistant diagnoses to become commonplace, many are still concerned with companies like Amazon or Google knowing such intimate medical details. How long until heart medication or PTSD treatment podcasts start populating our suggested products? Many feel that distrust in medical voice assistants may just be from a relative lack of consumer desire to use Google Home or Alexa for this purpose. Though, with over 11 million Echo devices sold since its release, the probability is certainly increasing.
For now, the use of voice assistants is confined to consumer convenience and novelty, despite an almost inevitable application in healthcare and other industries yet to be explored. No, doctors won’t likely be replaced by Cortana, Siri, Alexa, or Google anytime soon, we are certainly looking at a future where voice assistant technologies may get to know us in ways we commonly overlook.