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Special food needs? Just another data problem

With new technology, you can get the calorie count of a piece of cake just by looking at it

A couple of years ago, when Google Glasses (GG) were still very much a predicted but not yet available technology, I, like many others, was already thinking about the various possible applications for their use. In broad terms, GG was meant to be the first consumer product for introducing people to augmented reality. The idea was to overlay some form of computer information on our vision. The hoped-for result would be information everywhere, and the rare need to pull your phone out of a pocket or purse, in order to find information, get directions, take photographs or record video and even more.

It is actually interesting that so many end-of-year tech summaries referred to GG as a failure. While the specific GG product being sold did not have wide acceptance, I think that Google managed to prove unquestionably that GG has its place in the professional arena. And there is no question in the minds of many, that visual augmentation will be a consumer must-have in the near future. Whether this augmentation is in the form of GG or contact lenses or some other technology altogether, is really a secondary issue.

Although it seems horribly spoiled and lazy, a technology may fail simply because it requires a user to make even a minimal effort. For many technologies to truly succeed, it is best that they be seamless. In other words, the technology should do everything it’s meant to do with the least possible action (and ideally no action) on the part of the user. So, returning to GG, if I see an item that I wish to purchase in a store like Walmart, I should be able to simply pick up the item, blink at it and have GG automatically record the purchase and then charge my credit card when I leave the store (No checkout lines !!).

But the expectation was that GG would do a great deal more. It would also potentially interface with even your personal medical record, and warn you if the item you just chose was problematic for your given condition. The classic situation would be picking up a container of ice cream when you are a diabetic.

The following article demonstrates a very practical and useful website that helps potentially anyone who is specifically looking for kosher food is Estonia. I specify anyone, because there is a large population of non-Jews who specifically buy certain kosher products, for various reasons. A person who is a true vegetarian knows that a product labeled as pareve or “of milk”, will not contain any meat products down to the smallest possible measurable amount. For a person who has celiac disease, Passover time tends to offer a huge variety of non-gluten options that mimic “regular  food” very well. So, this type of mobile app actually has a large audience.

Identifying specific foods would be an ideal app for GG and smart watches. And in fact, I am very surprised that big chains of stores like Walgreen’s and Walmarts, have not developed any real technological assistance to people who wish “smart” information about their purchases. I keep referring specifically to food, but the same could be said about various over-the-counter medications and treatments. Having GG or a smartwatch guide you through all of the various options available, would be welcomed by people who simply cannot choose a specific type of healthcare product and then abandon the purchase altogether.

Here is an interesting question: if Walmart had access to your medical records, might your GG or smartwatch guide you towards the vegetable and fruit counter versus the dessert counter? I can personally say that if my phone buzzed and I saw a message from Walmart pending, I would probably ignore it. But if my GG displayed the message (whether I like it or not), I really could not ignore the pop up. And perhaps, I would have a greater tendency to follow the in-store digital guide to better food choices.

Future smart glasses could do even more. I once had the idea that special glasses of the future would blackout any items that a person did not wish to buy. So for the person who is trying to keep to a diet and who does not want to see the pizzas and ice cream in the cold section, future smart glasses would simply display blank fields where these items stand. Without the visual stimulus, people would probably tend to choose these problematic items less.

Ultimately, purchasing special foods and medications of any type is a data problem. If each individual food/medication is labeled with a data marker, and the client is using a device that can identify that marker, then every possibility for digital shopping becomes available. This begs the question: why is this technology not yet being implemented.

Perhaps the big marts feel that the buying culture is not yet ready for this type of digital intrusion. Or, perhaps the big marts want to legitimately wait until smart glasses and watches are standard wearables. I still believe that the shopping experience of 2020 will be radically different than the experience of today. Only time will tell.

Thanks for listening

My website is at http://mtc.expert

About the Author
Dr. Nahum Kovalski received his bachelor's of science in computer science and his medical degree in Canada. He came to Israel in 1991 and married his wife of 22 years in 1992. He has 3 amazing children and has lived in Jerusalem since making Aliyah. Dr. Kovalski was with TEREM Emergency Medical Services for 21 years until June of 2014, and is now a private consultant on medicine and technology.
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