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Small Data, Where N = Me

By Deborah Estrin

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 57 No. 4, Pages 32-34

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We hear a lot about how big data, smart devices, and all the '-omics' (for example, genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and so forth) are going to transform medicine—and they will. But there is another force that is going to change the way we think about and practice health, and that is our small data—small data derived from our individual digital traces.

Consider a new kind of cloud-based app that would create a picture of your health over time by continuously, securely, and privately analyzing the digital traces you generate as you work, shop, sleep, eat, exercise, and communicate. While there are personal devices and Internet services specifically designed for self-tracking (Fitbit, Patients like me, http://quantifiedself.com, and so forth), digital traces include a much richer corpus of data that we generate every day, just by virtue of our normal activities. And while the use of electronic health records is increasing, today's systems capture data reported by clinicians, not patients; and data about clinical treatment, not day-to-day activities.


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