Health is a continuous system that should be monitored and controlled to keep it in its best possible state. Future health will use technology in novel says to maximize health states and minimize diseases.

Applying Cybernetics to Healthcare

Cybernetics principles, proposed as a mechanism for control and communication in machines as well as living systems, have transformed the design of complex systems. Continuous measurements are a key component in closed-loop feedback control systems for implementing systems that work in real-world noisy environments.

The human body and other biological systems have an intricate play of real-time sensors and actuator functions. When something within the human body fails to function properly, the unstable condition results in diseases, and we try to cure this condition by fixing the defective components in the communication/control loop.

IFH is exploring how we can apply technology to extend the cybernetic loop for a person outside his or her body using emerging sensors and following cybernetic principles of continuous monitoring for proper communication and control.

Understanding Today’s Health Cycle

Currently, most people think of their health only when they’re sick. When they feel under the weather, they visit a doctor. A successful doctor’s visit results in the diagnosis of the person’s health state (possibly a disease) and a prescription for medicine and any other regimen that will help cure the disease or at least ease the discomfort. Usually, the doctor’s office then schedules a follow-up visit.

This process forms a MEGI cycle: Measure, Estimate, Guide, and Influence.

Cybernetizing the MEGI Cycle

In the MEGI cycle, there are many human elements, and the ultimate operation is not a closed-loop system. We want to apply a cybernetics approach to personal health to gain the benefits of self-regulation as has happened in many other complex systems.

Given how progress in sensors, computing and AI has disrupted so many fields, it’s natural to ask whether MEGI can be cybernetized. In addition to common sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS, cameras, and microphones) found in almost every smartphone, other measurement technologies are appearing, including those that measure temperature, perspiration, heart rate, sleep, galvanic skin resistivity, blood oxygen, blood sugar, and blood pressure, making cyber health possible.

The cybernetization of the MEGI cycle will result in a major disruption in personal health.

Building a Personal Health Navigator

The latest disruption caused by cybernetization was in the area of navigations systems. Navigation systems effectively route — and reroute — users, providing the most efficient path possible to their destination. This requires knowledge of not only the current and desired location but also the method of transportation, current and predicted flow of traffic and weather and road conditions. Navigation thus involves constantly evaluating the current state to maintain perpetual progress.

Health navigation should be a similar process. By continuously collecting health state information, converting it to personal health chronicles, and applying event-mining tools, we can build personal models that exploit readily available medical knowledge based on your individual needs and context.

The health navigation process.

For example, one potential app is a personal health navigator that tracks your food profile, biological data and activity information. The app could help you plan activities and meals based on your current situation. Such an app could replace the great many books you might have on healthy living, offering a more effective and actionable app in their place that provides easy access to the latest information.

A personal health navigator.