MATTSPLAINED [] MSP81 [] The Automation Autopilots.

Original Images: Pixabay. Glitched @ Kulturpop

Original Images: Pixabay. Glitched @ Kulturpop

MATTSPLAINED [] MSP81 [] The Automation Autopilots.

The robots are coming. Not a new message for MSP. It’s not the robots that want to take your jobs. It’s their human overlords and the people who enable them.

Produced by Jeff Sandhu for BFM89.9

Episode Sources: 


10,000. That’s the magic number of steps we always hear associated to fitness. But where did it come from, what does it mean, and what implications does it have to for all those fitness apps and trackers. 

It’s always funny when you do an episode related to physical fitness. As you’ve said before, you have a face and body for radio.

  • I’ll have you know I’m a very trim 65kg

  • [Pause]

  • I think BFM's computers would cough right now if they could.

  • This episode has taken a while for me to get around to, pretty much like anything to do with fitness.

  • Wanted to try and combine a few things.

  • Firstly, the the rise of the wearable: by which I mean companies like Apple, placing the Apple watch at the centre of their ecosystem, and gambling that our obsession with living healthier and better lives Will be their key to continued success.

Does this tie in with their approach to data privacy?

  • I think very much so.

  • Of course, the company has always had a different approach to its consumers data.

  • That's partly because it's been able to follow a different business model.

  • Apple doesn't really give you anything for nothing.

  • Its hardware and software package is expensive, no matter what device you're buying into.

  • And whether it's buying services directly from Apple like its film and music streaming services, its storage and cloud computing or using its App Store to by third-party apps for which it takes a healthy margin.

  • Apple is not short of revenue streams.

  • You pay a premium price to enter apple’s world and you keep on paying.

  • And it's harder journey to profitability for a lot of the other tech companies.

Because of their freemium approach?

  • Even for manufacturers like Samsung and Huawei.

  • Because their model is built around you regularly upgrading.

  • They have fewer opportunities to creators ongoing revenue relationships with you.

  • And as you said, companies like Facebook and Twitter have to work really hard to turn us into money.

  • And a lot of problems with these companies originate from that fundamental disconnect between what they have to do, what they're willing to do and what we want them to do.

Presumably companies like IBM, Microsoft and Google are more of a hybrid?

  • Yeah, Microsoft is actually the really interesting one.

  • Because it seems to be cherry picking from everyone else's business models.

  • It hasn't managed to corner the market to apps on the way that Apple and Google with android have done.

  • You can see it bringing together hardware and software like apple.

  • It's very successful in the cloud storage space like Google and Amazon.

  • And you can see it building is very tightly integrated business ecosystems, where it's going certainly head-to-head with Google,

  • But also creating very focused business presence modelled on the way we use social media like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

  • I guess we should probably do a show on the new Microsoft at some point in the future.

  • Certainly, I think from a consumer point of view, we still view Microsoft based on the legacy of Windows and Internet Explorer.

  • And Explorer was replaced by the edge browser four years ago.

  • Our view of the company may not have moved on, but Microsoft certainly has.

Are you trying to get Microsoft to send you free stuff?

  • No, of course not.

  • I'd be very happy to try out any of their hardware.

We’ve established that Microsoft is fit for purpose. So can we get back to fitness?

  • That was clever.

  • Sure. We make a lot of assumptions about fitness, some of it based on science, some of it based on what the obscenely muscled calorie junkie at the gym tells us.

  • Another understanding of the science behind fitness is evolving.

  • Partly via a term that we don't often hear talked about in relation to fitness which is evolutionary biology.

  • Rather if you look at the science evolutionary biology is talked about a lot.

  • But not when we talk about step counts, training and that side of fitness.

So you're here to tell us how all the information about fitness is wrong even though you look like you ate your way through marathon?

  • I'm going to ignore your rudeness.

  • One of the reasons is because I read a very interesting article – As usual in the new scientist – about some of the assumptions we make about our evolution and the amount of exercise that we need.

  • Another, as I said is because companies like Apple are placing wearable and health devices at the centre of the ecosystem.

  • So if you're building these devices, if we're trusting them to give us accurate health information, then we need to make sure that the devices are also built around sound science.

  • Otherwise, the information they give us may not help us to improve our health, or may not be as effective as we think it is.

  • And if those devices are built around faulty information, then it's possible that they're actually doing harm.

So you're here to tell us how all the information about fitness is wrong even though you look like you ate your way through marathon?

  • As I said the article I am referencing is from new scientist.

  • It's titled: How many steps a day do you really need?

  • And then it's subtitled spoiler: it isn't 10,000.

We hear that a lot. Where does the idea that we need 10,000 steps a day come from?

  • There may well be some discussion about this but the article, written by Herman Pontzer, alleges that it was a marketing ploy dream By the Japanese manufacturer of step counters back in the 1960s.

  • It also equates to the amount that centres for disease control and prevention in the states recommend today

  • And that is at least 25 minutes of moderate and vigorous exercise today.

  • Which is supposed to equate to roughly 10,000 steps.

  • When I go for my irregular medicals, the doctor usually tells me 15 minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week.

So this is a subject where there's any real consensus?

  • The consensus is generally that we don't get enough exercise.

  • And of course that exercise is generally beneficial to us, for a variety of reasons.

That's a relief. I thought we were going to be hearing about your Netflix and chips diet

  • In a parallel universe, that would be true.

  • Can you imagine? Every episode of modern family you watch takes you step closer to that Olympic gold medal?

  • I'd be an unstoppable force.

  • Most people are aware now of why exercise is beneficial.

  • It's great for the heart and muscles.

  • It regulates hormones like testosterone and oestrogen.

  • Cuts the rick of cancer, heart disease, strokes, diabetes.

  • It's also really good for our brains.

Because it releases chemicals that help to regulate our mood and Moderate stress levels?

  • Endorphins and endocannabinoids.

  • More than that the flow of blood helps to keep those old Brain cells ticking over nicely and helps to stimulate the generation of new brain cells.

  • And also the stimuli that the exercise creates is beneficial.

  • Because you're using your brain to navigate, and Negotiate and balance.

  • All those things that autonomous cars create peta flops of data to do.

  • It's slightly less well-known that a slothful existence…

Netflix and Chips…

  • Yes. That a slothful existence can actually be a trigger to our natural fight or flight response.

  • Which doesn't necessarily make sense to a lot of people.

  • If you’re hiking through the forest you might expect yourself to be more stressed or nervous then if you're watching reruns of shark tank with a milkshake in your hand.

  • According to Pontzer, those fight or flight and inflammation responses are always on in the modern world.

You’ve missed out burning calories…

  • That's something that exercise may not be quite so good at, contrary to what a lot of us believe.

  • And part of that is to do with our evolutionary biology.

  • Research the punter has carried out reveals that Hunter gatherers in Tanzania a 5 to 10 times as active as people tend to be in Europe and the United States but the calorie expenditure is the same.

  • The tests showed that in these people, the Hadza, the body has adjusted.

  • It expands less energy on certain tasks so is to maintain that calorific balance.

  • So if you are looking to exercise to lose weight, then diet and metabolism are also going to be very important.

Presumably, if you push your body beyond that balance that's when things start to go wrong?

  • Yes, this idea of overtraining.

  • It does seem extreme exercises have a slightly raised mortality rate.

  • Immunity levels can drop. White blood cell counts reduce.

  • Female athletes suffering from overtraining syndrome may even stop ovulating.

  • In case you're wondering if you are overtraining, unless you're pushing yourself to the limit for three to five hours a day or beyond, it's probably likely that you're not.

When we come back, Matt answers the all important question: is he naturally lazy. 


Before the break we were looking at some of the advancing science in the field of fitness. And why anything with the words salt and vinegar and cheese and onion on the packet is probably not going to speed you to the heights of athletic excellence.

I guess it’s less important to ask why you’re so lazy and more important to ask why we are so lazy as a species? 

  • Let's go back to those hunter gatherers in Tanzania.

  • One of the things that are confuses mortality rates is that in modern, developed societies we have modern, developed medicine.

  • Pontzers research with hunter gatherer societies showed elders in their 60s and 70s to have extremely healthy hearts and to be very fit and active.

  • But, of course, they have much higher mortality rates than our society overall because people are more likely to die from injuries, illnesses or infections that are treatable and preventable in developed societies.

What does that have to do with laziness?

  • Evolution.

  • If you look at most of the larger mammals they sleep a lot more than we do.

  • life is = geared more around preserving calories.

  • So when we became hunter gatherers thousands of years ago, we changed our body's response.

  • My technology moves rapidly, Evolution doesn’t.

  • Eventually, it may well be that are bodies respond to Our lives of Comfort and plentiful food by returning us to that slothful state.

  • But right now we’re essentially wasting the Biology of scarcity on the garden of Eden.

  • Being lazy would be fine if our bodies were able to cope with us being lazy.

Does all this mean we need more less than most 10,000 steps?

  • Punters article and his research suggests the more would be better.

  • Of course, how you exercise makes a difference, but in general he suggests that around two hours of fairly vigorous exercise, equivalent to around 15,000 steps would probably be ideal.

  • Like most people working in this field he cautions there anything is better than nothing.

  • If The only exercise you get is reaching for the remote-control, then at least reach the remote control.

  • Don't let someone else do it for you.

Which means that the targets on many of those wearable devices are useless?

  • It’s ironic that our laziness about fitness even extends to getting fit.

  • We want somebody else to do the calculations for us.

  • Somebody else to set the goals.

  • And that's understandable.

  • Especially when it relates to an area that we don't fully understand.

  • Where we can fall into a trap is thinking of these products as medical devices.

  • And then, you have the fairly thorny issue of ethics surrounding the use of Devices that may or may not be medical devices.

Isn’t that a good thing if it leads to healthier populations?

  • We talk about automation a lot on this show.

  • Last week we talked about some of the ways that employers are using automation to replace their human workforce.

  • We also have to be careful that the generalisations and assumptions that come with some of these wearables and health devices don't also directors down that path to automation..

  • The one example we used last week was a Uber and it's quiet rides system.

  • That the best way to prepare riders for a world where the car has no driver, is to treat the driver as though she or he isn't there.

  • Whether it's intentional or not it is an effective piece of conditioning.

Surely, if we don't have jobs we can spend more time exercising and being fit?

  • That would be one of the best possible outcomes.

  • Although how anyone would afford the designer yoga wear, I'm not too sure.

  • We have to ensure that these devices don't Play a similar conditioning role.

  • That's one of the advantages a Dr has.

  • A doctor can look for or tell you if there's an underlying cause for you to have an irregular heartbeat.

  • Most of us, our heartbeats are not as regular as medical drama series would have us believe.

  • And it's perfectly normal to Drop the occasional beat.

So there's a burden around the interpretation of data?

  • Precisely that. What's the point of recording all this information if you don't know how to interpret it?

  • We aren't all alike and as much as these devices learn from us information is going to be based on averages produced by studies.

  • Yes that information will improve over time, the quality of data Will increase, because the algorithms behind them will be learning from these ever-increasing sample sizes.

  • We are not machines and automatons.

  • Averages mean very little to us that individual level.

  • For example, when I had to wear one of those heart monitor thing is for couple of days, a few years ago, the results showed these random spikes where my heart rate would suddenly hit way above 140 bpm.

You automatically think there’s something wrong?

  • Exactly. Prior to that and part of the reason that I ended up wearing the monitor because I've been using a wearable with A heartrate Sensor and I’d been getting these crazy results.

  • Which is why the doctor has you write an activity diary.

  • And he tracked those spikes to sitting in traffic jams.

What did you do?

  • As I have the luxury of working for myself, I've been able to adjust my timetable so that I don't travel so often during those times.

  • And I've also been able to make my own attitude adjustments that reduce those physical impacts.

  • and the doctor was quick to point out that they weren’t worrying in and of themselves.

Let’s go back to what you were saying about automatons? Is this a conspiracy to condition us all to think and act the same?

  • No. At least I don't think so.

  • You also have to look at the bigger picture.

  • It doesn't have to be a conspiracy for it to have that effect on us.

  • It doesn't have to be a conspiracy for people to exploit or amplify that conditioning.

  • So, we've raised this example on the show before, what happens if a health provider, medical insurer, offers you a lower premium if you agree to wear a Health Tracker 24 hours a day?

  • Will that policy reduce benefits or refuse to pay out if you forget to wear the Tracker or stop wearing it?

Especially as we’re seeing companies like Amazon, that have a hardware division, announcing that they’re planning to enter the medical services industry.

  • Exactly. Amazon doesn't have a fitness tracker at the moment.

  • I haven't found anything that suggests that it's an area there over interested in but it would make sense.

  • The company has tried to get into the phone and tablet space with mixed results.

  • Medical insurance and health trackers would be an ideal way to put Alexa on your wrist and hook you into the commercial side of Amazon’s business?

  • Not sleeping? here are some products to help.

  • Like I said, this is very much conjecture.

  • That certainly, it would be hard to view any company having that level of control of your daily life as being something that was beneficial to you, whatever the health outcomes might be.

Do you think we are maybe overstating the risk of these devices?

  • Let’s not forget that this technology is still very new.

  • When youhave a medical check, the machines that analyse your heart rate, measure your blood sugar levels, the oxygen levels in your blood.

  • They tend to be a bit larger and a bit more sensitive than a watch with some fancy lights underneath.

  • That's not to say the technology won't get there.

  • But it's why these devices aren't treated as medical devices.

  • They aren't medically approved because by and large they aren't accurate enough.

The data could be wrong?

  • It very much depends on your device.

  • We all know how easy it is to game step count results on some wearables.

  • Back when I used to drive a vehicle with very hard and bouncy suspension, my wearable could record at 2000 steps on my morning commute.

  • That doesn't really happen so much with modern wearables.

  • One area that we've seen this massive expansion into is in measuring the quantity and quality of our sleep.

  • there’s a great article on the Guardian by Emine Saner, published on 17 June called why sleep trackers could lead to the rise of insomnia.

  • Alana Hare asleep consultant at London's Royal Brompton Hospital is seeing a rise in patients who come in and tell heard they have a problem with sleep.

Because they're not sleeping?

  • No. They’re sleeping.

  • And when she asks them how they feel they say they feel fine.

  • They come in because their wearable tells them that they're not getting enough sleep or not getting enough good sleep.

  • And this goes back to what I was saying about understanding the information that we generate.

  • It's great to have fancy graphs that show how well you’re doing that information is useless you understand what it means.

  • And it's very hard for these devices to track the quality of an individual sleep.

  • Sleep studies laboratories is a lot more equipment and they study brainwave activity how your eyes move your muscle tension.

  • The seat track as most of us use are much simpler. They monitor movement, and they may track your heart rate and analyse the sound of you breathing.

So you results may be skewed?

  • ? Of course, this is not going to be the same for everyone, but for some people they can be obsessed with Quality of that date.

  • So the idea that they're not getting enough sleep or do not getting good enough sleep can actually become an obstacle to sleeping.

  • As the Guardian article points out sleep clinics are seeing a rise in patients coming in with insomnia that is exacerbated by the devices they hope will help them solve or manage the insomnia.

  • And then maybe a psychological knock-on effect as well.

  • Most of this role at bed and get on with the day.

  • How tired we are or not maybe something that's in the back of my mind but Not something with paying a huge amount of attention to.

  • The devices can actually serve to Bring this idea that you're tied to the top of mind and reinforce those feelings.

So we should throw the fitness trackers away?

  • No, there's no need to go that far.

  • Just remembered that there is there to help you.

  • For me, that means turning off the heart rate tracking on my Apple watch.

  • Because for me there is more stress in knowing and not knowing.

  • Similarly, I don't need reminding that I don't get enough sleep.

  • Find the functionality that works for you.

  • Remember that they’re not medical devices. You're not chained to them.

  • If you're using one and you find that you're more stressed rather than less, take it off for a few days and see if that improves the way you feel.

  • Don't quit the exercise. Or Netflix and chip.

  • Don't fit your life around the device.

  • Fit the device into your life and don't worry. Be happy.