An NYU project hopes to virtually track 10,000 New Yorkers for 20 years

Posted On Mon, June 5, 2017 By

Posted On Mon, June 5, 2017 By In City Living, Technology

Beginning this fall, a research project led by a neuroeconomic professor from New York University will follow 10,000 New Yorkers for two decades in hopes of understanding the future of big data and human decision making. The Human Project, developed by Paul Glimcher, will gather a ton of data from residents, including medical records, diet, credit card transactions, social interactions, sleep, educational achievement, blood work, stool and urine samples and even more. As the New York Times reported, the goal is to create an atlas of the entire human experience. With a $15 million budget, the project hopes to start making some findings by 2020.

The project is a collaboration of the Kavli Foundation, the Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making at NYU, and the Center for Urban Science and Progress at NYU. “Human” stands for “Human Understanding through Measurement and Analysis.” In addition to understanding the human experience, the Human Project hopes to examine patterns that may help shape policy for public health and education. These patterns could help researchers understand the development of obesity over a lifespan, how nutrition affects people as we age, and how neighborhoods protect or harm our health long-term.

Researchers decided to focus on families in 4,000 households and 150 census blocks in NYC, and they predict a 40 percent success rate when asking people to participate. According to Glimcher, even a 10 percent success rate of participation will provide enough data for the project. About 250 gigabytes of data will be collected on each subject each year, the equivalent of a computer hard drive.

Big data collection studies happening now usually miss large sections of the population, because not every person owns a smartphone. This tends to skew the data to represent more wealthy and healthy individuals. Unlike cellphone and social media companies, Glimcher said the Human Project wants participants to understand exactly what they are getting into. Since the Human Project plans to study the microbiome and gut bacteria, this includes a collection of some invasive information, like stool samples. Recruiters trained to handle this sensitive topic will hit the city streets seeking volunteers, hoping to convince them their very personal data will remain secure.

The project’s headquarters at NYU’s new Brooklyn campus will be equipped with a system of security zones. All activity is monitored in the “green zone,” but access will be limited to secure information. In the “yellow zone,” researchers must use a thumbprint and ID card to view actual data. The most secure data will be kept in the “red zone,” which researchers must pass an antechamber between two sets of doors, as well as provide a thumbprint, ID and a passcode.

Over the next few decades, the project hopes to expand to track 200,000 Americans. For more information on this ambitious Big Data project, check out its website here.

[Via NY Times]


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