Eyes as a Window to Your Health | Melissa Hunfalvay | TEDxFoggyBottom


Translator: Rhonda Jacobs
Reviewer: Denise RQ This is a painting by the famous
American artist, Norman Rockwell. Take a look at it for a moment. What do you see? Where are you looking? The longer I looked at this painting,
the more I began to see, such as the dog. But maybe the dog was the first thing
that you looked at. How are you looking at the painting? Are you focusing in on one spot? Or are your eyes skipping about,
trying to take everything in? Are you able to see it
in clear and sharp focus? Are you looking where I’m looking? Are you looking where the person
next to you is looking? What if you could see
through someone else’s eyes? We use our eyes to take in 90 percent
of everything that’s going on around us. All other senses combined
are just ten percent. So if there was a place we should
be looking, we should know about it. Right? I grew up playing tennis in Australia, came to the United States
on a college tennis scholarship, and turned professional. I’ve coached for about 20 years. Back when I was 22 years of age, I was the youngest coach
in NCAA Division I history. But looking back, wow,
did I have a lot to learn. Take freshmen men
and deodorant, for example. (Laughter) It’s not optional. (Laughter) Even on a college budget. It’s not a ‘one and done’ application. And no, I do not care
what your mother says, it does not smell sweet. But I digress. I got my PhD in human movement, and was part of a group of coaches
ranked number one in the world. But the longer I studied and coached, the less and less I felt like I knew
about the game of tennis where I was supposed to be an expert. Early on in my PhD work, I read
a 30-word paragraph in a textbook, and it really opened my eyes. It said, “Elite level soccer players
do not watch the ball.” And the reason we know this is because
there’s a new technology out there that allows us to see
where people are looking. It’s called an “eye tracker.” But wait a moment. Everybody knows to watch the ball;
it’s a foundation concept. It’s the first thing I was taught; it’s the first thing I teach other people. Here’s a ball; watch it. But if elite level soccer players
don’t watch the ball, then maybe elite level
tennis players don’t either. I began thinking back to my own play, and I thought, how was it that I was
as successful as I was as a professional, but I was never the fastest,
or the tallest or the strongest. I know, you may be asking,
“What skills did you have?” (Laughter) I started asking myself the same question. And people would say,
“You anticipate well.” So I began looking
at the kids that I coached, and I noticed they would stop, frozen in place, waiting until they saw the direction
that the ball was going. But in those critical couple of seconds, in a game where the ball can travel
up to 160 miles an hour, they responded too late. The game is simply too fast to wait. So this is what I studied for my PhD. I know, some people study
the human genome, biochemistry, physics. I studied a fluffy, yellow ball
going back and forth. But I learnt something very important, and that is, experience
teaches us where to look. Experienced tennis players watch the arm
as it comes forward on the serve. This tells them the direction
the ball’s going to go. Inexperienced tennis players wait
and watch for the ball. The same is true in soccer, lacrosse,
football, baseball, hockey; the list goes on. Through the convergence of science
and eye-tracking technology, we were able to dispel
a long-held assumption, which is: watch the ball. Now can this be used
for other applications? Have you ever seen a teenager drive? They look at the hood of the car
and the lines on the road. Experienced drivers
look 20 feet out in front. They have a routine between the mirrors, and they know everything
that’s going on around them. This helps them to anticipate
what’s coming on down the road. If you text and drive, you look at the same places
as inexperienced drivers. If you drink and drive, you look at the same places
as inexperienced drivers. The bottom line is the same – an inability to react to a dynamic
and fast-changing environment. You can look at the myriad
of statistics that will tell us an increase in accidents and fatalities. Where you look matters. When you have a conversation
with somebody, where are we taught to look? Look them in your eyes, right? At least in Western culture,
that’s what we’re taught, because if you don’t do that,
you may be seen as rude or deceptive. But let’s take that concept
into a recent hot-button issue, which is police shootings. A novice police officer
is engaged with an assailant, and he does what every one of us would do, he looks him in the eyes. But in less under
two seconds, this happens. And now the police scanner
says, “Officer down.” Take a similar scenario: the novice police officer again
engaged with an assailant. And because he is looking in the eyes,
he fails to recognize what’s in the hand. And the assailant picks up a cell phone
in order to make a call. The police officer misidentifies it,
reacts, and shoots. Now the scanner says, “Civilian down.” The veteran police officer
does something different though. Experience has taught him where to look. And he looks for the greatest threat,
which are the hands. He identifies the gun,
and he identifies the cell phone, and he reacts appropriately. Now the death of the novice police officer
and of the civilian are clearly tragic. But they are both potentially preventable
by knowing where to look. They can also be trained through simulations and modeling
after the veteran police officer in order to avert
these tragedies in the future. So far I’ve talked about
where you’re looking. This can help us anticipate better,
make better decisions, improve safety,
and even save lives. But our eyes also tell us
how we look at something. My grandfather
was a World War II veteran. And he came back to Australia, and he had what was diagnosed
at that time as “shell shock.” In today’s world we call it a concussion
or a traumatic brain injury. And one of the ways that we assess
for this in today’s world, is the doctor will ask you
to follow their finger with your eyes. We can re-create and refine
this test using eye-tracking. Here’s an example of somebody
who has not had a concussion, following a dot around
in a circle on a screen while their eyes are being tracked. Now let’s compare that to somebody
who has had a concussion. The technology allows us
to see the differences. The data allows us
to quantify those differences. And what we know is that if somebody
follows that dot around in a circle in a smooth fashion with their eyes
80 percent of the time or more, that’s considered relatively normal. However, if their eyes skip about, then that may be one possible
indicator of a concussion. Using the convergence of science
and eye-tracking technology, we are now able to quantify this,
be highly specific, and track it over time. This same methodology
is now being used to assess the symptoms
of over 30 other neurological disorders, such as ADHD, Parkinson’s,
and Alzheimer’s. Early scans of these disorders
can change the course of the disease and impact the quality
of that person’s life. So far I’ve spoken about where you look. And that was just an example
of ‘how’ you look at something. But our eyes also reveal
if we can see clearly. Think back to when you
were a child in school, learning to read. In order to see the words on the book,
your eyes need to converge. There are times when
this fails to happen though, and that’s called
“convergence insufficiency.” And one of the reasons that may happen, is because of the distance
between your eyes. The further set your eyes are apart, the more effort it takes to converge
at a near point, like a word in a book. So if your eyes are set further apart, you may actually be
at a disadvantage for reading. Now what do we do when we get tired? We take a break. When our eyes get tired, we may seemingly
look around the classroom. But from the teacher’s perspective,
we’re now seen as being inattentive. If you were like me as a child, maybe you’d start shooting spitballs
at Sally in front of you. Now you’re seen as being disruptive. But either way, the next step
is usually an assessment by the specialist
in a Special Education team. And the first thing they’re going to
look for and assess for is your hearing. Why? Because they want to eliminate
any physical or biological reason that may be causing the behavior. What about vision? Nope, not commonly asked or assessed. And if vision is assessed,
a basic visual screening does not include
convergence insufficiency. So we are missing the potential
to assist these kids in reading. We are also potentially
misdiagnosing them, providing them with medications
like Ritalin for ADHD, when they should be getting reading
glasses for convergence insufficiency. The bottom line is the same: The child is not getting
the care that they need and they may never get that care. So what’s the solution? How do we help these children? How do we help the athlete
reach their potential? How do we help the teenager park
in the garage and not the garden bed? It’s all about “thinking next.” How do we take any and everything
that we can assess through the eyes and impact the life of others,
whether they be young or old, advantaged or disadvantaged? My vision for seeing next
is taking science, eye-tracking technology,
and cloud-based solutions to provide instant results. My vision is a scalable, portable solution
that allows access for all. My vision is a modern physical exam that does early scans for over
30 neurological disorders in less than two minutes. My vision is to test
for convergence insufficiency and over 15 other vision-related disorders as a standard in all American schools. My vision is to assess
the entire US prison population where illiteracy is 85 percent, where medications for attention
and behavioral issues may be over-prescribed, where they may have
never had a vision test. But we don’t want to stop there. My vision is to provide this solution
throughout communities and to children throughout the world in order to impact their lives when they may never have had
access to such a solution. My vision is not only to assess
but also to train, providing interactive and fun games with virtual reality
and virtual intelligence, games that change
as you change and get better. My vision is an all-in-one device that assesses any and everything
through your eyes, in order to impact
the quality of everyone’s life. And provide a life
that has yet to be discovered. My vision is becoming your reality
sooner than you may expect. Thank you. (Applause)

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