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The concept of ‘digital phenotyping’ was originally developed by researchers in the mental health field, but it has travelled to other disciplines and areas. This commentary draws upon our experiences of working in two scientific projects that are based at the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute – The RADAR-AD project and The Minerva Initiative – which are developing algorithmic phenotyping technologies. We describe and analyse the concepts of digital biomarkers and computational phenotyping that underlie these projects, explain how they are linked to other research in digital phenotyping and compare and contrast some of their epistemological and ethical implications. In particular, we argue that the phenotyping paradigm in both projects is grounded on an assumption of ‘objectivity’ that is articulated in different ways depending on the role that is given to the computational/digital tools. Using the concept of ‘affordance’, we show how specific functionalities relate to potential uses and social implications of these technologies and argue that it is important to distinguish among them as the concept of digital phenotyping is increasingly being used with a variety of meanings.

Original publication




Journal article


Big Data and Society

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