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The Quantified Self: Fundamental Disruption In Big Data Science And Biological Discovery

Melanie Swan
Published 2013 · Computer Science, Medicine

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A key contemporary trend emerging in big data science is the quantified self (QS)-individuals engaged in the self-tracking of any kind of biological, physical, behavioral, or environmental information as n=1 individuals or in groups. There are opportunities for big data scientists to develop new models to support QS data collection, integration, and analysis, and also to lead in defining open-access database resources and privacy standards for how personal data is used. Next-generation QS applications could include tools for rendering QS data meaningful in behavior change, establishing baselines and variability in objective metrics, applying new kinds of pattern recognition techniques, and aggregating multiple self-tracking data streams from wearable electronics, biosensors, mobile phones, genomic data, and cloud-based services. The long-term vision of QS activity is that of a systemic monitoring approach where an individual's continuous personal information climate provides real-time performance optimization suggestions. There are some potential limitations related to QS activity-barriers to widespread adoption and a critique regarding scientific soundness-but these may be overcome. One interesting aspect of QS activity is that it is fundamentally a quantitative and qualitative phenomenon since it includes both the collection of objective metrics data and the subjective experience of the impact of these data. Some of this dynamic is being explored as the quantified self is becoming the qualified self in two new ways: by applying QS methods to the tracking of qualitative phenomena such as mood, and by understanding that QS data collection is just the first step in creating qualitative feedback loops for behavior change. In the long-term future, the quantified self may become additionally transformed into the extended exoself as data quantification and self-tracking enable the development of new sense capabilities that are not possible with ordinary senses. The individual body becomes a more knowable, calculable, and administrable object through QS activity, and individuals have an increasingly intimate relationship with data as it mediates the experience of reality.
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