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Apple iPhone may detect depression and anxiety by scanning face of users in future

Apple iPhone may detect depression and anxiety by scanning face of users in future

The latest iPhones have powerful face-scanning technology and a fresh report suggests that Apple is going to use this technology to detect depression and anxiety among users by scanning their faces.

Story highlights
  • A new report says Apple will offer depression and anxiety detection feature for iPhone users. 
  • The feature will use face scanning to find signs of depression and anxiety on the faces of iPhone users.  
  • Apple is already testing the feature in collaboration with a US university and Biogen.  

Apple is reportedly working on a new feature for iPhones that would detect mental health conditions like depression, anxiety in users. Anew report says that Apple has collaborated with the University of California, Los Angeles and pharmaceutical company Biogen for the iPhone feature that would help in detecting depression and cognitive decline. It has been reported that Apple will utilise biometric data of users to tell them about their mental health condition.

A Wall Street Journal report notes that for the feature Apple may use sensor data that includes amount of sleep in a day, mobility, physical activities and how the user types on their phone to determine whether the user is suffering from depression or cognitive decline. Other data that Apple would use include facial expression analysis and heart rates using the powerful face scanning hardware in the iPhone.

In fact, the report notes that the feature is already undergoing testing. The University of California, Los Angeles is studying stress, anxiety and depression with Apple Watch and iPhone data for 3,000 users who have volunteered to be tracked in the study. Another study with pharmaceutical company Biogen is also part of the trial.

The Apple project in collaboration with UCLA has been codenamed "Seabreeze" while the other project with Biogen has been codenamed "Pi". The project was reportedly piloted in 2020, Apple recorded data of 150 users who had volunteered for Apple's special project.

The WSJ report notes that researchers will use data taken from the iPhone and Watch sensors. The users who have volunteered for the project will also be asked to fill in a set of questionnaires about how they feel. Apple will also detect cognitive impairment in patients. The research for the same is underway with Biogen. The cognitive impairment can develop into Alzheimer's in a later stage. Apple wants to use the feature to alert the users showing signs of cognitive impairment. Early detection could help the users from contracting serious illnesses like Alzheimer's. The Cupertino-giant along with Biogen plans to track almost 20,000 people who have signed up for the project.

"The promise of detection tools for people with severe neurological or mood disorders is that you could intervene early and potentially prevent worse outcomes, Faraz Hussain, the lead developer at BiAffect, told WSJ.

A project like this, which uses biometric and health data, will inevitably raise privacy concerns. However, Apple has made preparations to address them. The company is reportedly working on an algorithm that works on the iPhone in offline mode and doesn't send the data to Apple servers.