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  • Writer's pictureHubert Österle

Life Engineering Why

Updated: Jun 26



„Tom, you seemed to be very unfocused and tired during the meeting today. Is the project too big for you? “


„No, sorry, I just haven’t been able to sleep well over the last few weeks. When I get up in the morning, I’m just exhausted. “


„That can’t be good for your career as an architect, you must do something about it. I have been using this sleeping app called Snory for a year now, it’s helped me quite a bit. “


The year is 2034 and health apps such as Apple Health, InsideTracker and the sleep app Pillow have been getting progressively more powerful in the last few years. They use machine learning to derive patterns from ever more personal and other data to recognize health risks at an early stage and guide people towards a healthy lifestyle.


Tom finds out more about Snory. A long-term study confirms that Snory makes a significant contribution to quality sleep. He learns that Snory analyzes data from numerous sensors, such as step count, location, heart rate and even voice color. In addition, Snory analyzes his activity in digital services such as WhatsApp, iOS Calendar and Revit, an architectural design software. Snory also has access to medical information, such as DNA analyses or fat levels.

That is a number many times greater than the data used by a Covid app. Tom recalls the data privacy concerns at the time. Does he really want to entrust all this data to an app? On the one hand, healthy sleep is a vital requirement for his well-being and his career. On the other hand, he is afraid that his data could be misused. Tom doesn’t want to decide lightly and asks himself questions such as:


· How much could Snory actually contribute to his well-being? Are there sufficient and objective evaluations of Snory’s benefit among the thousands of Snory users?

· Does Snory offer explanations for its recommendations regarding behaviors that enhance sleep?

· Will Snory burden his daily routine in addition to family and work?

· How does the provider of Snory earn money? Is it through annual fees, selling data, or influencing in favor of certain products?

· Who besides Snory might be able to use the collected data? His health insurance company to predict his future health care costs, his employer to analyze his performance, a political party to identify angles to influence him, a police department to assess his loyalty to the country, and possibly even his neighbors and clubmates if they got access to the data through indirect means?

· Is Snory a tool for monitoring and controlling society?


Tom has no useful answers to any of these questions, merely guesses. In the end, he makes a decision based on his ‘gut feeling’ and subscribes to the Snory service. He is simply suffering too much from the effects of sleep deprivation and too much from the fear of jeopardizing his position in the architecture firm to risk not trying it.


Who could help Tom in this situation? A doctor, his boss, a healthcare provider, the health insurance company, consumer protection, an ethics committee? Tom can’t find answers anywhere and he feels abandoned.


To answer such questions, we need a scientific foundation, in other words a discipline of life engineering. This discipline must be able to answer the following questions:


1. What possibilities does technological advancement offer?

2. When does technology promote or harm quality of life?

3. What are the consequences of using digital services for the individual?

4. How should companies leverage the potential for innovation?

5. What rules and incentives are politicians creating for the economy and society? How do they use technology to ensure a high quality of life for citizens?


When we look at the insights of philosophy and ethics, sociology and psychology, economics and behavioral sciences, etc., they ultimately revolve around the well-being of people. Technology is triggering a socio-technical quantum leap for humanity. This is changing all areas of life and there is no stopping it. Life engineering must provide foundations for harnessing technological development for the benefit of humanity. There are unprecedented opportunities for humanity, but also dangers. Technology could conquer diseases but could just as well lead to enslavement by the technological elite.


Questions


What is your stance on this matter?


· What do LinkedIn, Instagram, WhatsApp, X or TikTok contribute to your quality of life?

· Which companies and government organizations can use your data collected from social networks, emails, navigation apps, your car and your desktop applications? And for what?

· Do you have answers to Tom’s questions?

· What can you yourself contribute to tackling the reality of technological revolution, i.e. to life engineering? Or would you rather not think about it?


We discussed this topic on our youtube channel:



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A comment on Lars P. Reichelt

Privacy always sounds ethically superior, for most of us health is even more important. It is hard to understand the ongoing discussion.

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