Home' Technology Review : July August 2011 Contents Notebooks 9
man-made disaster, which still affects many
hundreds of thousands of people today. The
root causes are lax or nonexistent regulatory
oversight in Japan and an ineffective safety
culture at the plant’s operator, Tokyo Elec-
tric Power Company (TEPCO).
Japan’s nuclear regulator has never been
independent from the industry or from the
powerful Ministry of Economy, Trade, and
Industry, which promotes nuclear power.
TEPCO has a history of disregard for
safety and had recently released an error-
prone assessment of tsunami hazards at
Fukushima that significantly underesti-
mated the risks.
For the foreseeable future, despite
increasing levels of computerization and
automation, human operators will remain
in charge of day-to-day control, monitor-
ing, and maintenance at nuclear plants.
We should learn from Chernobyl and
Fukushima that this global industry must
strive for higher universal safety standards
and closer coöperation among its members
and regulators. The safety of these plants
transcends national borders and has never
been more important in the eyes of the pub-
lic than it is today. We can do better than
Chernobyl or Fukushima.
NajmediN m esh kati is aN e Ngi Ne eriNg professor
at th e U Niver sity of s oUtherN CaliforN ia aNd has
iNspeCted NUClear plaNts aroUNd the world iN the
CoU r se of r esear Ch iNto the iN dU stry’s safety.
apps to track the health of indi-
viduals are most powerful when
we use them collectively, says
Anew breed of smart, connected tools
and apps is enabling a band of early
adopters to track and analyze their per-
sonal health data. This type of intimate
relationship with health information has
the potential to transform our perceptions
of disease and risk. It can help people take
earlier and more effective steps to address
developing health problems (see “The
Measured Life,” p. 38).
Yet unless we carefully consider how
to introduce these new applications to a
broader population, a significant opportu-
nity will be lost. The “quantified self ” move-
ment risks oversupplying enthusiasts with
new gadgets while failing to reach those
who would benefit most. Many people with
much to gain are not served by this trend
today, whether the barrier is limited finan-
cial resources, low digital literacy, or just
plain lack of interest. We must find ways
to reach them.
Simply giving those people access to the
techniques pioneered by early adopters
won’t be enough: usually, the biggest bar-
rier to good health is not a lack of detailed
personal information about what healthy
habits are and how well an individual is
maintaining them. More often, people know
what they need to do but are prevented by a
lack of necessities such as nourishing food,
clean air and water, a sense of physical secu-
rity, and a supportive social environment.
To help the many people in that position,
health-tracking technology must deliver
more than just extra, richer information.
How do we help the self-quantification
movement reach this broader population?
Perhaps by revisiting the unit of analysis.
Instead of equipping every person with
tracking devices, we should devise ways
to track, measure, and meaningfully pres-
ent the findings at the community level. By
quantifying communities, not just individ-
uals, we can unleash the power of data to
Imagine the impact of being able to see
extremely precise, real-time measurements
of the air pollution that affects hundreds
of children as they wait for school buses.
Informing one child’s parents about poor air
quality at the bus stop may do nothing more
than frustrate. Informing hundreds of par-
ents and activists that many embedded sen-
sors found consistently high pollution may
inspire action that leads to change. That’s
the vision of a project called CitiSense, an
early foray into this type of participatory
environmental monitoring and tracking.
Another, Asthmapolis, pinpoints environ-
mental triggers by tracking every puff of its
participants’ inhalers to reveal when and
where asthma patients use their drugs. Both
ventures are showcasing the most transfor-
mative power of these new data-gathering
technologies: to provide diverse communi-
ties with information that can improve the
long-term health and well-being of their
members as a group.
r aCh el magU i re direCts r esear Ch oN the impaCt of
fUtUre health teChNologies at the thiNk taNk iNsti-
tUte for the fUtUre.
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