Yes, your continuous health monitoring Internet of Things (IoT) wrist wrapper well may track your sleep quality and how many calories you burn, but answer me this: does it stick artificial intelligence (AI) sensors up in your business to capture your urine flow and the Sistine Chapel-esque glory of the unique-as-a-fingerprint biometric that is your anus?
Doubtful. The world has never seen a smart toilet like this, which is described in a new study from Stanford University that was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering on Monday.
Sure, you can get a “smart” toilet that offers ambient colored lighting, wireless Bluetooth music sync capability, heated seat, foot warmer, and automatic lid opening and closing, but regular, not-all-THAT-smart-after-all toilets can’t diagnose disease.
This one can, Stanford scientists claim. It uses an array of sensors to measure your excreta, which means that yes, it can tell when your waterworks are on and will happily extend a dip stick into your babbling brook in order to conduct uranalysis. It will also use AI to scan and analyze images of your stools.
In fact, it will capture both your pee and your stools on video and process them with algorithms that Stanford News says “can distinguish normal ‘urodynamics’ (flow rate, stream time and total volume, among other parameters) and stool consistencies from those that are unhealthy.”
Isn’t Urodynamics the name of a boy band?
Your urine can reveal multiple disorders. The dip sticks can be used to analyze white blood cell count, consistent blood contamination, and certain levels of proteins, among other parameters that can signify a spectrum of diseases, from infection to bladder cancer to kidney failure. The study’s senior author, Dr. Sanjiv “Sam” Gambhir, says that at this stage of development, the toilet can measure 10 different biomarkers.
The research comes out of the lab of Dr. Gambhir – a PhD, Stanford professor and chair of radiology. He told Stanford News that the toilet is a perfect continuous health monitoring devic – better than wearables because, unlike your smart watch, you can’t avoid it:
The thing about a smart toilet … is that unlike wearables, you can’t take it off. Everyone uses the bathroom—there’s really no avoiding it—and that enhances its value as a disease-detecting device.
You won’t have to go broke buying this smart toilet whenever it may become commercially available. Gambhir envisions it as part of an average home bathroom, with the sensors being an add-on that’s easily integrated into “any old porcelain bowl.”
It’s sort of like buying a bidet add-on that can be mounted right into your existing toilet. And like a bidet, it has little extensions that carry out different purposes.
Gambhir says that the upcoming number two version of the toilet will integrate molecular stool analysis and refine the technologies that are already working. His team is also working to customize the toilet’s tests so as to fit a user’s individual needs. For example, a diabetic’s smart toilet could monitor glucose in the urine. Another example: those with a family history of bladder or kidney cancer could benefit by having a smart toilet that monitors for blood.
Measuring the Fnarr Fnarr factor
The Stanford researchers tested the toilet with 21 participants over the course of several months. To gauge how well users may accept it, the team also surveyed 300 prospective users. About 37% said they were “somewhat comfortable” with the idea, and 15% said they were “very comfortable” with the idea of “baring it all in the name of precision health.”
We are unique snowflakes in so many ways
You can imagine many reasons why people might feel uncomfortable about test strips being automatically extended and inserted into their flows and images being taken of their nether regions. In fact, the toilet has a built-in identification system that scans your anus: a biometric that turns out to be like fingerprints or iris prints, Gambhir said:
We know it seems weird, but as it turns out, your anal print is unique.
The toilet uses both analprints and fingerprints to identify users, which the scientists say is done purely as a recognition system to match users to their specific data. The scans will not be silkscreened and mounted on a wall, Stanford says: No one, not you or your doctor, will see the images.
Why not just identify users via the fingerprint sensors embedded in its flush handle? Because fingerprints aren’t foolproof, the team realized. One user might use the toilet while someone else flushes, or else the toilet may be self-flushing.
You’re storing WHAT in the cloud???
Gambhir says that this toilet isn’t meant to replace a doctor or even a diagnosis. In fact, in many cases, individual users won’t even get to see the data. If the sensors detect something questionable, such as blood in the urine, an app would alert the user’s healthcare team.
… and the data would be stored with “privacy protections” in what the scientists say is a “secure, cloud-based system,” or what we prefer to call “somebody else’s computer.” Unfortunately, when it comes to cloud storage, you know next to nothing about the quality of that computer, or the ethics of the person operating it.
Let us pray that whoever develops a final version of the smart toilet doesn’t royally screw up the storage part, like so many other leaky-storage (no pun intended) providers have done.
One would assume that anus images wouldn’t lend themselves to identity theft or mass surveillance, nor that the FBI would amass an analprint database as massive as the one it has of facial recognition images.
But then, when it comes to biometrics collection, would it be all that surprising? As we recently learned, work’s being done to identify prisoners by their tattoo images, for example.
Gambhir says that data protection is crucial to the research, both in terms of identification and sample analyses:
We have taken rigorous steps to ensure that all the information is de-identified when it’s sent to the cloud and that the information – when sent to health care providers – is protected under [the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA], which restricts the disclosure of health care records.
We would be remiss were we to not point out what has been demonstrated time and time again: that Big Data can be dissected, compared and contrasted to look for patterns from which to draw inferences about individuals. In other words, it’s not hard to re-identify people from anonymized records, be they records pertaining to location tracking, faceprints or, one imagines, anuses.
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