Andrew Cho made his name doing things on a mountain bike that you really aren't supposed to do on a mountain bike—like shredding BMX tracks, launching off of roofs, and doing backflips. But the time he really got into trouble was while home alone following a dinner with friends. After feeling kind of dizzy throughout the evening, he stood up only to immediately collapse. He was paralyzed from the neck down.
According to a GoFundMe page set up to help with Cho's medical bills, the mountain biker, now a marketing manager for bike maker GT, managed to inch toward his phone using only his chin. He used his tongue to activate Siri, with which he was then able to call 911. Soon after, he was rushed into emergency surgery. Cho had broken a blood vessel in his C3 and C4 vertebrae, which had caused the paralysis.
By now, Siri's kind of getting a reputation for saving lives. Last spring, an Australian woman used Siri to call an ambulance after her baby had stopped breathing. In 2015, a man in Tennessee used it to call for help after being pinned underneath a pickup truck. In another incident, a toddler was able to call 911 using Siri after her mother cracked her head against a table after fainting. It would appear that this is a thing.
In a sense, it's been a thing for a long time. Medical alarm systems have been around since the 1970s courtesy of Wilhelm Hormann and his notion of hausnotruf, or "home alert." Hormann's theoretical concept was brought to the real-world market in 1975 by a company called the American International Telephone Company. Its Phone Care "emergency dialer" consisted of a wearable button that, when activated, communicated with a base station that would then dial a number on a rotary phone and deliver a pre-recorded message. The device went for $795 at the time.
Read More: Why Amazon's Alexa Ran Away With CES
Voice recognition together with portable devices has democratized hausnotruf. None of the scenarios mentioned above involved senior citizens, the target market of medical alarm systems. These are just relatively young and healthy people with phones, and relatively young and healthy people with phones get into tight spots, too.
There are signs that the markets are merging, however. While there's still an enormous marketplace for old-school medical alert systems featuring a button and a base station, apps are naturally stepping in. For as little as $6.99 a month, the the OnCall Defender Panic Alarm will equip your smartphone with a GPS-enabled panic button. Rather than dial 911, it feeds directly into a staffed command center with "a direct connection to local law enforcement." It's kind of like a security system that you wear around. The OnCall Defender is advertised as the first of its kind.
Smartphones come with something else that may be able to help in medical emergencies, even when the victim is unable to speak: an accelerometer. Already, apps exist, such as Emergency Fall Detector on Android, that can supposedly detect falls and contact help according to the user's predefined instructions.
Of course, the idea of our phones becoming nurses and effectively following us around scanning for trouble is its own kind of dystopia—probably one that an extreme mountain biker would otherwise abhor.
Get six of our favorite Motherboard stories every day by signing up for our newsletter.