Is Virtual Reality to Monitor Psychological Health a Good Idea?

As regular readers will know, I'm of the belief that we're going to see headphones getting smarter and smarter. (See here, here, and here.) Smart headphones will offer some astonishing benefits: blind people will be able to walk around with voice cues seemingly coming from outside their head identifying their surroundings; you'll be able to walk around in foreign countries and be able to have signs written in foreign languages read to you; and you'll be able to watch movies on your iPad with convincing out-of-head localization of surround encoded material, amongst many other things.

It's also very likely that we'll have various biometric sensors (pulse, temperature, perspiration, and even brainwaves) in smart headphones that help us monitor exercise and our physical health.

But there will also be an ever-increasing ability to use these sensors to track behaviors. Eye-tracking and image recognition technologies can, for example, tell how often you stare at attractive women...and what part of their bodies you're looking at. Imagine your wife having access to data from that app!

Well, researchers at the University of Montreal have begun to use virtual reality techniques to monitor sex offender impulses to gain a better understanding of patient psychology and treatment progress. (Read full article here.) In the past patients were able to game the system too easily and make identifying desease attributes and tracking progress very difficult. This new technique gives clinicians a much clearer picture symptoms and treatment progress. Projecting into the future somewhat, I can imagine a time when sex offenders have to wear something like a Google Glass to track and report behaviors real-time.

So, it occurs to me that in the not too distant future our headphones and smartphones are going to know more about us than we do. They'll know what excites us, when we feel depressed, when we need to eat...and how much. I'm not sure becoming reliant upon technology in order to be aware of my physical and mental needs is such a good idea. Shouldn't we be developing those skills internally? And, donning my tin-foil hat for a moment, will the NSA be farming this sort of data for an entirely new dimension of monitoring we, the people?

What do you think?

Is Virtual Reality to Monitor Psychological Health a Good Idea?
This is a disaster on all fronts. We need to learn about our humanity, and not how to become androids.
35% (92 votes)
With very strict privacy controls, this is a good idea for clinical applications. But we need to work on being human.
27% (71 votes)
With very strict privacy controls, this type of thing has great potential for improving our qualities of life.
23% (61 votes)
Meh, there's no such thing as privacy anymore. Let's just move forward rapidly with mixed reality products.
15% (39 votes)
Total votes: 263

ManiaC's picture

Analog > Digital

Tyll Hertsens's picture

Some say the universe is far from analog as we think of that term.

thelostMIDrange's picture

and my own thought control as well

tony's picture

Kinda makes a person cringe .

I just gave my smart phone to my wife and told her to cease the service , she's thinking of using it herself instead . I'm going off-the-Grid as much as I can go but still keep my internet so I can do stuff like this !
Hey Tyll ,
I just recommended you for increased responsibilities . I wrote a nice little letter to JA about you in the Frozen North and your 21st Century reviewing and to the effect that the entire world has departed from Vinyl and that Vinyl is no longer relevant , only a tiny group of East Coasters along with the remaining Vinyl collectors like TTVJ ( with his 12,000 Vinyls ) are not a good basis for running a Glossy Rag , a little digest would be ok but not a Big International Glossy , for christsake !!
I'm feeling that his Bosses up the Organization Ladder will or are considering a younger approach to Stereophile to be in order , the clock stopped ticking for all this RIAA based equipment .
As I look around , I mainly see you as the best candidate for leadership in the Audio Publication Segment . Don't Worry , You will be able to remain up there with the Polar Bears and 10' Snow Drifts , we live in an Electronic Age where you work from wherever you are . A glossy Snap of you crawling out of an Igloo would be a nice touch . ( wearing those LCD-3s , of course )

Tony in Michigan

ps. HP passed on Nov 5 , you might try to say something nice in a brief comment , I was accused of pissing on his grave !

thune's picture

Are you suggesting that our future phones will require a penis sensor?

Following the links of the research, you get to:
which uses
So yes, you are not paranoid if you think penis sensors and monitoring your reaction are a normal part of the future.

thune's picture

OK ok...the research is intended to be a substitute for attaching a device to your junk, instead judging how much you look at other (virtual) people's junk. "Siri, do I look at people's junk too much?"

thune's picture

Research [of broken link above.]

btw: posting here has become a nightmare, I can't even preview, edit and preview again.

Tyll Hertsens's picture
We're not in the mode of fixing things like that at the moment as we'll be moving platforms to some other The Enthusiast Network servers. At that point we'll be making some significant changes with the user commenting and forum interface. Sorry, and thanks for suffering through the current tools.
Claritas's picture

1. How tech could help us
2. How tech could harm us
3. Privacy concerns

Regarding the first two, I'll let others have the fun and risk of experimenting but will eventually use some of it. I know quite a lot about smartphones and use one of the best, but keep many features disabled (almost everything voice-activated) because I don't want to be distracted.

Regarding privacy, the federal government already knew too much when it started taxing income and issuing social security numbers. And that was decades before the Cold War and 9/11--that battle is pretty much lost. But we can retain some privacy by keeping it alive as an issue. The president took a beating over Snowden and intercepting Merkel. I doubt it changed a thing, but without public pressure it would worsen faster. The point man on this nowadays is Senator Paul (also Senator Wyden). Whatever I think of some of his other opinions, he's done good on this issue. Staying informed and trying to advocate for better policies is hard enough for most people, including me.

Three Toes of Fury's picture

1) "eye tracking will tell how often you look at attractive women". There's a somewhat obscure 80s movie by the great author Michael Crichton called LOOKER. Not sure how well it holds up but it had some ahead-of-its time of which was the use of eye tracking software to frame images in commercials and advertisements to subtly draw your attention to the product..i think about it all the time when watching commercials and adds.

2) "theres no such thing as privacy anymore". I was struck..very hard...with this realization this week. Up until this week i have not been involved with any of the social media web or app sites. I joined twitter for some geek tweeting. I provided it virtually NO personal advice and in moments it created a nested list of "people you might want to follow" that was filled with family, friends, and interests. Additionally, on the way to work, i notice that newer traffic signals throughout the drive feature camera pods on them. And while i realize each of these situations has positives within, Im trying very very hard not to think of Orwells 1984 and the implications within.

3) Technology vs Mental Health. While i love the quiz and format, i didnt vote because i think there's too many variables. Evolving technology and medical care, in the big picture, is generally a good thing. However the accuracy of that technology, the way its used, and the decisions made because of it are another, trickier subject. Im not sure the analogy works but lets use the invention of a the lie detector as an example. By all means this evolved technology has provided a new and improved way to catch SOME of those who are very good at lying. However the science is not exact. And supposedly there are those that are good at maintaining control over the bodily functions and reactions used by the technology in a way to cheat it. Therefore it cannot be used conclusively.

Peace .n. Living in Stereo


jgazal's picture

Related to such subject, you may find interesting Wello (blood pressure, blood saturation, heart bit rate ECG and plug-in for lung assessment) and Novartis/Google contact lens to measure blood-sugar levels. The former could add impedance analysis for body fat percentage and the latter could add eye oscillations measurements (to track some neural problems, labyrinthitis and even REM sleep).
While I cannot think health measurements for ears, headphone could measure hearing loss).
Then not only clinicians could rely on such data to better individual diagnosis and to track linked population) but one could change habits and see/feel results reflected to such data.
Just think how Waze helps to allocate cars on limited tracks and you will grasp the impact of such measurements in human health.