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René Bresgen

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Sea Hero Quest – Illustrating the potential of the digitization

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My 30th high school reunion. Wow, how the time has flown since then, I thought early this year. And I went to our class reunion, full of anticipation and curiosity. As soon as the regular program – a slide show of our parties and class trips from back then – was over, everybody eagerly jumped back into the 1980s. Suddenly, we were all back in the day. The stories started flying fast and furious. Ok, with slight bits of exaggeration and embellishment. But we had an unbelievable time. And we all agreed that that was a really cool time in our lives. How beautiful it is that nothing can take those wonderful memories away from us! 

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Millions of people, from a total of 193 countries, have played Sea Hero Quest.

As it happened, Deutsche Telekom launched its "Game for Good" initiative just a few days later. As part of the initiative, Sea Hero Quest, a navigation game for smartphones, was to generate baseline data that would set new standards in dementia research. Should I make my own navigation data, from the game, available to science? By playing the game, I would be supporting the research effort. The whole idea sounded very promising.

It also motivated me to learn more about dementia, and the more I learned, the more I realized what a scourge dementia truly is. Nearly 50 million people worldwide now suffer from dementia. And researchers expect that number to grow to about 135 million by 2050. The disease primarily affects memory, thereby causing disorientation and isolation. What's more, dementia can strike anyone, regardless of their age, heredity, lifestyle, or social status. While I had known something about dementia, I had never looked at it so intensively. ‎What if one day my own memories should start fading – and maybe even disappear completely?

To date, some 2.5 million people, from a total of 193 countries, have played Sea Hero Quest. The result: the world's largest baseline study yielding important global baseline data for dementia research. How significant is it? The experts agree: The data that Sea Hero Quest players are generating are enabling researchers to gain an entirely new dimension of insights. The data are illuminating key differences in navigation behavior – including age-related, gender-related and regionally related differences – that can be used to improve the precision and effectiveness of strategies for diagnosis and treatment of dementia patients. Could it be that Deutsche Telekom has taken its cooperation with science to an entirely new level of achievement?

In any case, I now understand, better than ever before, digital technologies can provide key solutions to many of our pressing problems – regardless of all challenges and questions digitization entails. Millions of people have made their navigation data available to Deutsche Telekom, in support of the battle against dementia. Cloud technologies are making it possible to store the data securely – in anonymized form – and provide it to scientists in orderly, useful formats. The volume of data it has produced in only half a year would have taken 9,400 years to obtain by conventional research means.‎

Our digital expertise, combined with the scientific expertise of our partners, has taken dementia research a major step forward. That is encouraging and gives us hope. Memories can be precious. And I want to be able to relive my experiences, with other people, for a long time to come. My next high school reunion will be in 2021. I'm really looking forward to it!  

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