Last week, Deborah Estrin, professor of computer science at Cornell Tech and co-founder of Open mHealth, discussed the role small data can play in improving health outcomes as the 2016 Nyquist Lecturer at the Yale School of Engineering & Applied Science. The lecture series is "named in honor of Harry Nyquist, Ph.D. '17, an important contributor to stability theory and information theory through his research into a quantitative understanding of thermal noise, data transmission and negative feedback."
Estrin's talk talk focused especially on how small data (as distinct from big data) can help individuals better track and improve their health:
"'Big data is hyped to no end, but it deserves the hype,' she told the audience in Davies Auditorium. But small data is also vital, particularly by filling in large gaps of information between birth and death.
Genomics are a very significant factor when it comes to a person's health outcomes, and it's all there at the time of birth. What happens after that, though? 'Genomics are not enough,' said Estrin, who served for 10 years as the founding director of the NSF-funded Science and Technology Center for Embedded Networked Sensing (CENS) at UCLA. 'One of the key utilities in small data is helping us understand those behavioral components that contribute to the onset and progression of chronic disease.'
Everything we do, Estrin said – what we eat, drink, and breathe, the medicines we take, and how well we sleep - 'have a huge role to play in what we die from.' Or how many steps did you walk last week, and was that more or less than your normal weekly jaunts. And to get much of that information, just look to your mobile phone.
'With the coincidence of these,' she said, holding up her smart phone, 'and the proliferation of digital services of all kinds, you now have so much data about people in their everyday life.'
Estrin noted that every smart phone has an accelerometer that measures movement, and from those very detailed metrics, you can tell a lot about patients' daily activities - and that tells us a lot about their state of health."