Revolutionizing Behavioral Measurement with MIT’s Marko System

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Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D

bSci21Media, LLC

Good data goes a long way, but sometimes it is hard to collect.  This is especially so in the behavioral sciences.  We have historically relied on self-report, or quantitative observations that require other people to manually tally rates of occurrence.  Using other people inherently introduces reliability and validity issues.  Moreover, some naturalistic settings create distractions or other motivational issues that conflict with data collection.

But those days are soon coming to an end.

New technology out of MIT can automatically track your behavior within a three dimensional vector-based space, and without the need for invasive video or for other people to manually record data.

The device is called Marko, and it works by emitting radio signals across a space and measuring their reflections from moving people…sort of like a radar system for people.  Initially, the device has to “learn” about your unique movements for a bit such that it can identify you and differentiate you from others.  After that, no one needs to wear anything.

Marko has already shown successes in a variety of settings, the details of which will be presented at the 2019 Conference on Human Factors and Computing Systems. In one example provided by BigThink, Marko monitored a patient with dementia in an assisted living facility.  The staff often reported that he would appear agitated but didn’t know why.  They noted that “over a month, they measured the patient’s increased pacing between areas of their unit — a known sign of agitation. By matching increased pacing with the visitor log, they determined the patient was agitated more during the days following family visits. This shows Marko can provide a new, passive way to track functional health profiles of patients at home, the researchers say.”

Thus, Marko potentially allows for meaningful functions of behavior to be reliably identified.  The technology removes all of the common issues involved with data recording done by humans which affect the reliability and validity of the data itself.

How could you use Marko in your work?  Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to bSci21 via email to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!

If you are looking for more ways to expand your behavioral science horizons, and earn Continuing Education credits in the process, check out our collection of on-demand videos here.

Todd A. Ward, PhD, BCBA-D is a science writer, social philosopher, behavioral systems analyst, and the President and Founder of bSci21Media, LLC, which aims to connect behavioral science to the world in an engaging, non-academic way.  Dr. Ward received his PhD in behavior analysis from the University of Nevada, Reno under Dr. Ramona Houmanfar.  He has served as a Guest Associate Editor of the Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, and as an Editorial Board member of Behavior and Social Issues.  His publications follow a theme of behavioral systems analysis, organizational performance, theory & philosophy, and language & cognition.  He has also provided ABA services to children and adults with various developmental disabilities in day centers, in-home, residential, and school settings, and previously served as Faculty Director of Behavior Analysis Online at the University of North Texas.  Dr. Ward can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. Well that was a horrible example of using Marko. The assisted living facility could have ran a separate, probably cheaper program, and would probably figure this stuff out. Plus, at the end of the day, we are still defining behaviors and the rules that follow. Have you ever tried to create a computer program to fix those issues? These are all very expensive ways to get the same data. We are all just scared of human error to figure out the end result that we put our priorities in the hands of robots. Behavior analysis, when at the personal level, should be helped at the personal level (not at a robotic level). There is a great tradition of humanism in BA. We should definitely watch ourselves when it comes to new technologies.

  2. The support of technology can help practitioners focus on training (families and staff). The burden of data collection is significant both from a reliability standpoint and workload (and potential staff burnout). I can see technology such as this being used in conjunction with data collected by the ABA Staff to calibrate and then to check for fidelity along the way. In this way, a comfort level with the technology can be developed and it can be used as a training tool for interrater reliability efforts for staff.

    I also agree with the commnent about the personal touch and I think if we can use technology to support Applied Behavior Analysis, in the field, we will have more time to build rapport and develop essential relationships with those we serve in ABA. As long as the technology is not the focus but the tool, I think it can be useful.

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