Good and bad of smartphones

This exercise is a part of Educator Guide: Smartphones Overshare / View Guide

1. Search for an article about a high school student who designed a smartphone app that uses sensor data to recognize a user. Explain the premise, success and possible use of the app.

Possible student response: The Science News for Students article “How you handle your smartphone could become a secure ID,” published 3/25/2016, describes one way smartphones’ accelerometer and gyroscope sensors could be used for security. As an award-winning science fair project, high-school student Yashaswini Makaram designed a computer program that uses app-collected data from smartphone sensors to identify the user handling the phone (she speculated that different people handle phones in consistently unique ways). Yashaswini’s apps collected data on how 20 classmates handled a phone in repeated trials, which she then used to create a movement signature for each person. Using those signatures, a computer program that Yashaswini wrote correctly identified the user 85 percent of the time. When 10 users tried to mimic the movements of other users, the program correctly identified the tricksters 93 percent of the time. Yashaswini proposed that smartphones could use this method to identify and unlock for their owners, instead of having to use passwords or fingerprint scans.

2. Search for an article about the potential effects of cell phone use on your brain. According to the studies covered by the article, summarize some of the potential effects.

Possible student response: The Science News article “Smartphones may be changing the way we think,” published 3/17/2017, explores how the constant use of smartphones could be affecting users’ brains. Studies discussed in the article found that people constantly use their smartphones throughout the day, check the devices at night and experience anxiety when unable to check the phones. Although some studies indicate that moderate smartphone use has no ill effects on mental well-being, other research suggests that reliance on smartphones makes people less likely to remember information or to navigate without help. Smartphones’ overall effect on users’ memory is still up for debate, scientists say.

3. Can smartphones be used to diagnose diseases? Base your answer on an article found in the archives.

Possible student response: A post onthe Science News blog Science TickerHandheld device turns smartphone into diagnostic tool,” published 2/4/2015, discusses how smartphones could be used to help identify viruses. Scientists created an inexpensive ($34) small device that connects to a smartphone, drawing power from the phone’s audio jack. A person could prick his or her finger to draw a blood sample and present the sample to the phone-connected device. Within 15 minutes, the device could detect antibodies indicating that a person had been exposed to a specific virus. The device correctly detected HIV infection 100 percent of the time, syphilis exposure 92 percent of the time and active syphilis infection 100 percent of the time.