The Long Game 55: Smartwatch Data Predicting Blood Tests, GPT-3, Internet & the Loneliness Epidemic

📰 Every Company is Becoming a Media Company, Noise, Maps of the Internet, Who Am I, Rize, Depression, Culture, and Much More!

Hi there, it’s Mehdi Yacoubi, co-founder at Vital, and this is The Long Game Newsletter.

In this episode, we explore:

  • Smartwatch data can predict blood test results

  • How the internet is reacting to the loneliness epidemic

  • Noise and decision-making

  • Every company is becoming a media company

  • Maps of the internet

  • An interview with GPT-3

Let’s dive in!


🥑 Health

⌚ Smartwatch Data Can Predict Blood Test Results

The future of health tracking and wearables is bright! Stanford researchers found that data from smartwatches can flag early signs of some health conditions and predict the results of simple blood tests.

A smartwatch can signal physiological changes, such as a change in red blood cell count, as well as early signs of dehydration, anemia and illness, according to a new study led by researchers at Stanford Medicine.

At Vital, we are extremely excited about all the new possibilities wearables will bring to health tracking. Bio-feedbacks will change the way we live.

“We wanted to know if smartwatch-derived signals could predict the same values without any invasive intervention,” said Lukasz Kidzinski, PhD, a research associate in bioengineering.

The answer was a resounding yes. Changes in heart rate, for instance, often predicted changes in red blood cell count and hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen. The team also found that smartwatch data gave more consistent heart-rate readouts than those taken at a doctor’s office. Consistent heart-rate measurements are believed to be the most accurate ones, Snyder said.

The results are another win for wearables — such as smartwatches, continuous glucose monitors and smart rings for your finger — which keep people constantly informed about their health.

Keep in mind, this is only the beginning.

In the future, rather than a few checkups here and there, our health will be continuously monitored, and we will see the potential health problems a long time in advance, leaving us enough time to take adequate measures. This is the future we are building at Vital.

🇪🇺 Longevity enthusiasts: If you’re a European citizen, please endorse this proposal from the European Longevity Initiative to push for more funding to extend the healthy lifespan. You can find more details here.

“Biological aging can be controlled with scientific means and chronological aging should nt be a ‘natural’ burden … 6 out 10 people in the EU over 65 years of age have their life compromised one way or another by their declining health.”


🌱 Wellness

🌐 How the Internet Is Reacting to The Loneliness Epidemic

I read this very interesting piece exploring how the internet is reacting to our loneliness epidemic. We already talked multiple times in this newsletter about the loneliness epidemic, phone calls and wellness, and more.

The piece first explores the consequences of a decline in church membership:

Whether you view the decline of church membership as a positive or negative trend, churches were a community hub. Along similar lines, community arts and recreation centers declined by 18% from 2008 to 2015. Today, people have fewer places to congregate, converse, and find belonging.

The general idea here is that we had socio-cultural structures for centuries, and it all recently changed around the mid-1900s with the idea of the “nuclear family”—2.5 kids and a white picket fence. The rise of the individual also followed it:

The frequency of the word “I” in American books doubled from 1965 to 2008. A study of magazines found that themes of family dominated in the 50s—“Love means self-sacrifice and compromise”—only to be replaced by themes of independence in the 60s—“Love means self-expression and individuality”.

All these shifts created a problem: a lack of community for many people. The internet is now trying to address this challenge. The piece explores three ways the internet reacts to the loneliness epidemic:

  1. Creators are your new best friends: “the commodification of intimacy,” among other trends.

  2. The Shift from Status to Belonging:
    ”If the 2010s were about people’s need for “status” online—manifesting in curated Instagram feeds and filtered selfies—then the 2020s are about people’s need for “belonging.” Because of how isolated we’ve become—a result of the social and cultural shifts mentioned above, accelerated by the pandemic—we’ll see an emphasis on communal bonding over performative individualism.”

  3. The Socialization of the Economy:
    Every aspect of the economy is becoming more community-centric: finance, education, healthcare, and more.

My big belief is that ‘social x health’ will be a massive opportunity in the next decade.


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🧠 Better Thinking

🔊 Noise

We talk a lot about bias, but not as much about noise. That’s a mistake, according to Daniel Kahneman.

Society has devoted a lot of attention to the problem of bias — and rightly so. But when it comes to mistaken judgments and unfortunate decisions, there is another type of error that attracts far less attention: noise.

Where does noise come from? People can have different general tendencies, but above all, they have different patterns of assessment:

People can have not only different general tendencies (say, whether they are harsh or lenient) but also different patterns of assessment (say, which types of cases they believe merit being harsh or lenient about). Underwriters differ in their views of what is risky, and doctors in their views of which ailments require treatment. We celebrate the uniqueness of individuals, but we tend to forget that, when we expect consistency, uniqueness becomes a liability.

Ok, so what do we do knowing this? We need to find ways to reduce the noise now that we’re aware of it.

Once you become aware of noise, you can look for ways to reduce it. For instance, independent judgments from a number of people can be averaged (a frequent practice in forecasting). Guidelines, such as those often used in medicine, can help professionals reach better and more uniform decisions. As studies of hiring practices have consistently shown, imposing structure and discipline in interviews and other forms of assessment tends to improve judgments of job candidates.

I’m constantly grappling with the idea that very often, more information is actually harmful and worsens your decision-making capabilities. The noise bottleneck is real:

The noise bottleneck is really a paradox. We think the more information we consume the more signal we’ll consume. Only the mind doesn’t work like that. When the volume of information increases, our ability to comprehend the relevant from the irrelevant becomes compromised. We place too much emphasis on irrelevant data and lose sight of what’s really important.


⚡️ Startup Stuff

📰 Every Company is Becoming a Media Company

Coinbase recently announced Coinbase Fact Check, an effort to decentralize truth in the age of misinformation. This follows a more general trend of content production becoming more and more democratized leading to the downfall of legacy media and the rise of decentralized information.

Every company is becoming a media company

Traditional media has been a powerful source of accountability for centuries. In more recent years, social media has as well, as any individual can share what is actually happening. The power of both these institutions is staggering, and they serve an important function. But traditional media and social media each come with a healthy dose of misinformation, and I believe people’s trust in these institutions has been in decline in recent years.

Companies are now emerging as a third source of truth, and can create accountability when misinformation is spread via other channels.

The bottom line is that you have to build your media company in parallel with your tech company. Gary Vee said it first 7 years ago:

Every single company out there, where they know it or not, is a media company in addition to the business or product that they specialize in.

This is a world where you don’t have to invest in a printing press, or a satellite, or a sales team in order to distribute your story anymore. Everybody is able to use the internet – or rather the tools being built on it like YouTube, Medium, Instagram, and Twitter – for distribution of their content. Over the next decade, more and more people are going to come to realize this, be it companies or individuals.

The faster your business realizes that it’s a media company, the more likely it will be to succeed in 2020, in 2025, in 2030…


📚 What I Read

👥 What You Do is Who You Are

I just started What You Do is Who You Are by Ben Horowitz. I will write about it more next week.

Culture is not like a mission statement; you can’t just set it up and have it last forever. There’s a saying in the military that if you see something below standard and do nothing, then you’ve set a new standard. This is also true of culture—if you see something off-culture and ignore it, you’ve created a new culture.

🍃 A few Thoughts on Depression

Depression is very different from sadness, and I think it’s generally not well understood in society. This piece does a great job of explaining what depression is and isn't.

Depression is not sadness. During the most intense part of a major-depressive episode, what I've felt is nothing at all like sadness. Mostly, it's a kind of numbness, and utter lack of desire and will. Underneath that numbness, there's the sense that something awful is happening - there's a very small voice screaming in the back of your mind, but you hear it only faintly. There's an uncomfortable wrongness to everything, like the world is twisted and broken in some terrible but unidentifiable way. You feel numb, but it's an incredibly bad sort of numbness. This is accompanied by a strange lack of volition - if a genie popped out and offered me three wishes at the depth of my depression, my first wish would be for him to go away and not bother me about the other two. Looking back on this experience, I've conjectured that part of depression might be like some kind of mental "fire sprinkler system" - the brain just floods the building completely to keep it from burning down.

🏦 The Cantillon Effect: Why Wall Street Gets a Bailout and You Don't

Matt Stoller on why bailouts are bad and are only worsening existing inequalities:

And that’s the lesson we’re learning in this bailout. If we want to be able to expand and reduce the money supply in a way that doesn’t benefit the already powerful and hurt everyone else, we have to have institutions to do so. There are many policies designed to fix this, including getting every American a debit card as Rep. Rashida Tlaib suggests, or using the IRS as a mechanism to extend payroll support to businesses, as Senator Josh Hawley seeks. With the technology we have today, moving money neutrally in an industrialized economy like ours should be a pretty simple undertaking. Our policymakers just have to decide to do it.


🎙 Podcast Episode of the Week

Only one for this week:

  • Walter Benjamin — On Distraction

    • A very interesting exploration of Walter Benjamin’s ideas around distraction and art. At a time when people are constantly distracted, art shouldn’t require your full attention to be enjoyed.


🍭 Brain Food

🗺 Maps of the Internet

I have always been fascinated by old maps of the world. Now that people spend most of their awake time on devices, mapping the internet real estate is very important.

You can explore these maps here.

Inspired by design of historical maps, this project aims to concisely, but still comprehensively visualize the current state of the World Wide Web, and document the largest and most popular websites over the period of 2020-2021, along with their countless aspects and features.


🎥 What I’m Watching

🤖 An Interview with GPT-3

This video is fascinating. It’s an interview with GPT-3, an auto-regressive language model that uses deep learning to produce human-like text. It’s not perfect yet, but imagine how it will be in 10 years? In 50… The world we live in will be radically different. It’s hard to imagine how.

❓ Who Am I? — The Mysterious Thing You Always Are

This might be the best video I’ve seen in 2021 so far. The future it depicts for us is both fascinating and scary. I think a lot of predictions for 2121+ made in the video are on point. For example, humans will live for centuries.


🔧 The Tool of the Week

💻 Rize — Maximize Your Productivity

Rize is a time tracking tool. I found it beautifully designed and interesting to explore. I don’t use a time tracking tool because it’s one more tool to use when there are already too many. If it were gamified, beautifully designed, and effortless to use, I’d happily use one. Rize might be the right one. We’ll see!


🪐 Quote I'm Pondering

Most people, Kamala, are like a falling leaf that is blown and is turning around through the air, wavering and tumbling to the ground. But others, a few, are like stars: they go on a fixed course, no wind reaches them, and in themselves they have their law and their direction.

Herman Hesse, Siddhartha


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👋 EndNote

Thanks for reading!

If you like The Long Game, please share it on social media or forward this email to someone who might enjoy it. Podcast reviews are also gratefully received. You can also “like” this newsletter by clicking the heart just below this, which helps me get visibility on Substack.

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Feel free to email me or find me on Twitter if you have any feedback or questions.

Until next week,

Mehdi Yacoubi

PS: Lots of newsletters get stuck in Gmail’s Promotions tab. If you find it in there, please help train the algorithm by dragging it to Primary. It makes a big difference.

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