Detecting Mental and Neurological Abnormalities with a Smartphone Screen

Arko Ghosh is working on what is called "tappigraphy." It involves analysing human behaviour based on daily "tap patterns" on the smartphone screen. Ghosh started the successful startup QuantActions in Switzerland in 2016 for this purpose. A second startup is now underway in Leiden and is emerging from his own CODELAB (Cognition in the Digital Environment laboratory).

Digital tapping to understand real human behaviour

What we search for, navigate, watch, and listen to on our smartphones is valuable information for tech companies. However, for neuroscientist Arko Ghosh, the mere fact that we constantly touch our smartphone screens is incredibly interesting. The data generated from all that "tapping" contains important clues about our health. "With the startup QuantActions, we have developed software that can precisely measure when someone touches their smartphone screen. The patterns in that tapping, especially the changes in it, offer us a completely new way to examine human behaviour. The data may contain warnings that someone may have a mental or even neurological issue."

The data about tapping on the smartphone screen used by QuantActions can primarily indicate that "something" is wrong with someone. But to know exactly what is wrong, where a developing disease may be in the brain, a next step is required. "We want to combine real-world smartphone data with more complex brain signal measurements. People who previously showed indications that "something" is wrong can then, for example, perform an EEG measurement at home. The data is processed in the background. This way, we can find out what is exactly wrong."

Deep tech start-up

For this, Ghosh is working on a new startup in Leiden. "This is truly 'deep tech,' " he says. "We are very willing to collaborate with existing companies for this, but we won't wait for such a company to approach us. We will establish our own company, similar to what we did in Switzerland. It's a long journey, and we recently received a Take Off subsidy from NWO. I hope to have a business plan and sufficient capital to really start within a year."

However, startups are mainly secondary for Ghosh. "My real goal is to better understand human behaviour in the real world. A consequence of this is that in the future, we can detect mental or neurological diseases more quickly and easily. But if I focus too much on the business side and lose my primary focus on science, it will eventually come to a halt. Deepening my knowledge is what enables us to continue developing. This means that I have to fully trust the colleagues who focus on the business side. My advice to fellow scientists is, therefore: stay close to your fundamental scientific interests. Then it remains clear what your unique impact is."