iPhones of the Future May Keep Tabs on Your Mental Health

Apple has teamed up with Biogen, UCLA to study depression, anxiety, cognitive decline
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 21, 2021 8:21 AM CDT
An iPhone to Sense You're Anxious? Apple's Working on It
In this Aug. 11, 2019, file photo, an iPhone is seen in New Orleans.   (AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

We rely on our devices for practically everything these days, and Apple apparently hopes we'll soon check our iPhones to get a better handle on our mental health. The tech giant has previously teamed up with UCLA on mental health research, and with pharmaceuticals company Biogen on studying cognitive decline. Now, per documents reviewed by the Wall Street Journal and sources in the know, Apple is planning to incorporate the knowledge it gleans from this work into its flagship product, with the goal of clueing in users that they may be suffering from such conditions as depression, anxiety, or cognitive decline.

The technology would revolve around an algorithm built off of data cues such as physical activity, sleep habits, and even how and what one types on a keyboard. This amalgam of information could offer insights into how consumers are feeling, their energy and concentration levels, and more. Per the Journal, the two projects even have their own code names: Apple's partnership with UCLA is dubbed "Seabreeze," while the Biogen research is called "Pi."

Apple's past health ventures have shown up in features in its smartwatches—a collaboration with Stanford, for example, led to a feature in the Apple Watch that could detect irregular heart rhythms. But with the UCLA and Biogen partnerships, the company hopes to expand to its more ubiquitous iPhones, and to offer an alternative to consumers who may not have easy access to mental health experts or brain disorder specialists.

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That said, the Journal's sources note that this research is still in the very early stages—Biogen just launched its study this week—and that it may not be possible to create an effective algorithm that can do what Apple wants it to do. Plus, there are potential privacy issues on the data that would be gathered that Apple would have to wrangle with. Still, Apple bigwigs are excited. "We're looking forward to learning about the impact our technology can have in delivering better health outcomes," Apple COO Jeff Williams says of the Biogen study, per AppleInsider. (More Apple stories.)

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