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Google Baseline wants to map perfect human health


Google Maps have been one of the most formidable resources in the mobile experience that any user could ever have, so much so that Apple’s created its own maps program to lure users away from Google’s grasp.

When Google’s not mapping territories, it’s mapping life underwater, allowing users to explore the seas from their couch and television. Lately, though, Google’s been concerned with health. Google Glass, despite a cold welcome from certain bar establishments and apps that can block Glass when it’s on an establishment’s Wi-Fi network, has become something of a hit among American doctors and medical researchers who appreciate the hands-free experience it provides when they’re participating in a surgical procedure with a patient.

Earlier this summer, Google created Android Wear, its own wearables platform that now provides smartwatches that can record your heart rate. The company seems to have taken its cues from Samsung with building a heart rate monitor into Android Wear’s software experience.

Now, Google’s on to a different experiment altogether: to map the perfect human body. Google wants to examine biomarkers of excellent health and predict disease afar off – before it strikes. This is the mindset behind the new Google Baseline project that seeks to map human health. According to a Google press release, Google’s said that “We want to understand what it means to be healthy, down to the molecular and cellular level,” repeating the phrase “what it means to be healthy” a certain number of times.

This question is an interesting one on Google’s mind, but it begs the question: can anyone answer it? Is there a certain answer to what it means to be healthy? Even if there’re certain biomarkers of excellent health, does a 75-year-old appear as healthy as a 25-year-old on a cellular and molecular level? Could it be the case that certain genetic markers are broad and available to all, while some markers differ based on age? If so, then a 75-year-old woman may be perfectly healthy – though she doesn’t have the same molecular and cellular appearance under the microscope as her 25-year-old granddaughter, for example.

Not only is the question a complex one to solve, but assuming that molecular and cellular levels and genetic biomarkers can fully answer the question of the perfectly healthy human is a little naïve in and of itself. “Genes are about 15 to 40 percent, behavioral patterns 30 to 40, socioeconomic factors 20 to 30, etc. So even a wonderful genetic model isn’t a total picture of health,” said Institute of Health Care Improvement VP Kedar Mate.

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Google could use Baseline to take a look at what a healthy human looks like, but the company would still have a hard time figuring out why the individual is perfectly healthy. For example, someone who comes from a very low socioeconomic level may not have teeth in the best condition, for example, and may require lots of dental work later in life. Looking at a person’s dental condition, Google could figure out that the individual isn’t perfectly healthy – but Google couldn’t understand why. It could be the case that the individual simply doesn’t care about dental hygiene, even if he or she was born in a golden crib with a golden rattle.

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Socioeconomic factors can also complicate when it comes to nutrition. Why are some individuals healthy and others aren’t? You may think it comes down to a matter of discipline – but genes determine that some individuals will have a history of heart attack, stroke, and cancer while others are born with mental disease issues but have no history of heart attack, stroke, or cancer. What about whether or not an individual meets the ideal weight that’s compatible with their size? Some may say that the individual is well-to-do, which explains why they eat certain amounts of fruits and vegetables.

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This could be true: some individuals may choose to eat healthy because they’re vegetarian (for whatever reason), but some could eat more fruits and vegetables than meet because they come from a low socioeconomic background. On the other hand, some individuals are overweight not because they couldn’t afford expensive, healthy food but because they’re well-to-do and could always afford anything they wanted to eat (including candy, cookies, cakes, pies, etc.).

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Google Baseline looks to be another potentially exciting endeavor for Mountain View, but it does seem to have some complex questions to work out. As of the moment, it sounds as if it’s some grand experiment that has a quest in mind – but, once Google gets to where it’s going, we’re not so sure Google will know where it’s headed anymore. It’s often the case that you don’t see the multi-faceted diamond until you start examining the surface.

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