What began as a pie-in-the-sky idea was actually put into production as Google Body Browser, a 3D WebGL powered app that showed the major features of the anatomy in a browser. As Google has focused their energy around their core products they have discontinued Body Browser and open sourced the code under the name Zygote Body. While the project never incorporated the more advanced features I imagine below, I have hope that such an application will one day be available.
This is an idea I had for a new kind of computer program– an idea I call “Google Human” because I imagine it to be like Google Earth but for the human body. To be exact, it’s a biomechanically, biochemically, anatomically and physiologically correct 3D model of the human body that responds to user inputs.
It’s predicated on the idea that, at any given time, we are made up of various levels/ values of biochemicals, risk factors, perceived states– and that these can be quantified and modeled in 3d.
It could become a platform to collect huge sets of data on individual biological processes and phenomena related to health and show clearly how they interrelate with one another.
Imagine our Google Human–
We give her an aspirin tablet. Then we watch as her vitals change (as viewed by a facebook-style status update stream)
- her corticosteroids drop by 24%
- her perceived pain drops 56%
- inflammation of her stomach lining increases 9%
- her expected lifespan increases .00327%
- heart rate increases 12%
We can see her bones and muscles, and how they would interact if we moved them this way and that. We can take a virtual tour of the structures of the body and see a brief description of their function.
Imagine showing junior high kids what happens when they drink a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew right before their eyes! They would be able to watch as their blood sugar spikes, their attention scatters, and their empty calories increase.
Imagine being able to explain HIV transmission and AIDS to pre-literate people in sub-Saharan Africa, where a large part of the disease’s spread is caused by persistent attitudes and behaviors based on false information.
This could be a boon to medical science, as well as to public health, making it possible for the world to have a shared central repository for medical information that could drive medical science forward.
I imagine this to be a MUCH MORE COMPLEX version of the old virtual life simulations like the Creatures series from the 1990s. At the time, these programs were revolutionary for imbuing virtual-pets (for lack of a better word) with computer modeled DNA, nervous systems, digestive systems, and so on. According to Wikipedia:
“The program was significant as it was one of the first commercial titles to code alife organisms from the genetic level upwards using a sophisticated biochemistry and neural network brains. This meant that the Norns and their DNA could develop and “evolve” in increasingly diverse ways, unpredicted by the makers. By breeding certain Norns with others, some traits could be passed on to following generations. Most interestingly, the Norns turned out to behave similarly to living creatures. This was seen as an important insight into how real world organisms may function and evolve. “
The goal with Creatures’ norns was to make cute and interesting virtual pets for people to play with on their desktop. Imagine using the same technology to create working models of human beings, using everything we know about medicine (western, eastern, and otherwise), health science, and so forth. (Update: I just found out that they are planning a new, online, free to play version of Creatures– follow the @creatures twitter feed for updates.)
I imagine that, like GEarth, the graphics can improve with time if the human is made up of inter-stitched patches of photos. As higher resolutions of photography become possible, the “grid” of photos can be replaced with better ones.
Cool– what’s next?
It’s probably obvious that this is just an idea– and I do not have the technical ability to make it anything more than that. Please use the comments to discuss the idea, build on it, and bring it closer to fruition. I notice there is a fair amount of traffic consistently for this post, so if you’re reading, please say ‘hi’ in the comments and let me know what about this post interests you. It would be a huge thrill to see people actively developing these ideas!
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