Robert Goldberg: Quantifying Stress


  • Robert Goldberg, Founder and President, Neumitra

  • Robert Goldberg, Founder and President, Neumitra

  • Robert Goldberg, Founder and President, Neumitra


Robert Goldberg
Founder and President, Neumitra

Goldberg: My name is Robert Goldberg. I’m here with Neumitra. And our mission is to quantify the effects and costs of stress on human health, performance, and ultimately happiness. So now, I was trained as a neuroscientist and for over a decade this was how I saw the brain, as an organ that we could study in intricate detail and yet how it relates back to our daily lives is an open question. So when it came time for me to understand stress, I had to go back to the textbooks and look at the autonomic nervous system. This is the system that keeps us alive all day, every day. We know it by fight-or-flight, and rest and relax, or stress and sleep. But it affects us and how we feel all the time as we sit there. We would be quadriplegic if we didn’t have this system. We would have trouble breathing. Our heart would stop functioning. So what’s interesting then from that type of system is it also affects how quickly we age. So Liz Blackburn won the Nobel Prize in 2009 showing that stress is felt at a cellular level and the more stress that you feel, the faster you age. This was clear 150 years ago and sadly, not much has changed.

So part of the problem is, how can you understand something if you can’t quantify it? At Neumitra, what we’re building are embedded bio-modules that get inserted into devices. They send their data over to the mobile platform where then we send data to the cloud to compute population level analytics. Through this feedback loop, we’re providing constant biofeedback based on how you feel every minute of every day. So in a sense what we’re building is the biology stack. It runs orthogonal to all these device makers. Rather than a separate device, you can imagine bio-enabled devices that are calculating medical quality data and providing real-time biofeedback every second of every day. In this sense, we’re quantifying stress through using skin conductants, heart rate, motion, temperature, biofeedback that’s always self-learning, and Bluetoothed to devices. We’re following an n+1 type of model. We don’t know what stress is today but every little bit counts for us to understand more and more, especially as the data aggregates. So we benchmark our technologies against clinical research equipment.

And ultimately, this is what stress looks like. This was me briefing the pentagon on our technologies. We’re losing 22 veterans a day to suicide. And this was me very stressed and I was feeling it pretty acutely. At the time, when we showed this to our collaborators at Harvard, they had never seen anything like it. Science goes to where the lamppost is and for stress there has just not been a lamppost to this point. So as we send the data over to the mobile environments, we’re able to compute personalized analytics, personal software to give you the context and the applications to both measure, understand, and manage stress. So as you relate it to your calendar you start to see differences across your day. We color code everything. The challenge I put to my team was rather than use numbers, let’s see what we can do with just colors. And so you start to see differences pop out pretty easily by being able to categorize the different types of events. So what pops out here? Well, commuting is as stressful as exercise, which is as stressful as medical environments. Meetings are fairly stressful. What I found interesting is that napping in some ways is more relaxing than trying to sleep through the night and force yourself to get eight hours. And there’s just so much interesting work to be done here because stress and sleep are two sides of the same physiological coin.

I thought this would be a fun example. So this is me driving around the Valley and what you can see here, which is probably familiar, is SFO is a very stressful place, the 101 is a very stressful path, but 280 is very relaxing so I end up staying in Halfmoon Bay to clear my own mental health. We even see the effects across different types of multimedia, so closing your eyes and listening to music has a tremendous physiological effect and we know that; that’s the point of music. But some songs pump you up and some songs calm you down. So by sending all this data to the cloud, we are able to address the cost of stress across a large population. The data just continues to aggregate so we can better understand those relationships.

Stress affects every organ in the body and so chronic health costs continue to escalate, but it also affects the functioning of the brain. So if you’re a developer, if you’re an engineer, if you’re a lawyer, stress is shutting down the frontal cortex and making you much more emotional and reliant on compulsive behaviors. You can’t be as innovative if you are stressed. The best work will come from being relaxed. Now that’s not all or none; that’s partly just trying to manage when things are getting out of control.

So just quickly, $150 billion dollars is being lost in productivity due to the cost of stress, it’s tripling healthcare costs, it’s affecting all of us and it’s affecting us every day, especially in Fortune 500 companies. So imagine a world where you start being able to visualize not just how you feel but how your neighborhood feels, how your company feels, how your whole family feels, and ultimately connecting to doctors based on that data. And that’s our mission at Neumitra, is what does it mean to connect us all based on how we feel every minute of every day and that’s a future that I’m certainly looking forward to.

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