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Sunday, May 04, 2014

The car that can spot dementia

Having reviewed the papers on BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement this morning I have an advantage in spotting all the strange and wonderful stories that are considered news on a bank holiday weekend, even before they reach the on-line editions.

Thus, I saw in today's Sunday Express a story that both intrigues and sends shivers down ones back, namely the development of a car dashboard that could detect the early signs of dementia. Apparently, the monitor in the dashboard detects dips in the motorist's mental ability by assessing eye movements and performance.

The scientist who is leading the project believes that the technology will be able to see the early signs of dementia as much as two years before a neurologist might spot it.  The paper says that Ford, Toyota and Lexus have already designed cars which can monitor the drivers condition or attentiveness so as to prevent heart attacks or accidents.

The big issue of course is who owns the data. The whole project smacks of big brother and there would need to be some quite radical safeguards to ensure that it was not abused.

On the other side of the argument the technology could also be used to identify drink drivers and disable the vehicle so as to stop them driving it. And of course the data might be used as a sort of black box to assess the driver's condition after an accident.

We do need a debate on the ethics of this technology before it is introduced. I think it is fair to say that if we do not have that debate and it starts appearing in cars by default then it could well generate some very controversial situations.  I would also want to ensure that legislation does not lag behind its introduction from a number of different angles.
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