Part of the Aging and Innovation Special Report
It is the year 2025 and I have just celebrated my 85th birthday. I still live at home. This afternoon, I got into my self-driving car and went to my great granddaughter’s house for a visit. She introduced me to a group of her friends over lunch and I heard every word they said. I was a part of the conversation.
Two weeks ago, I fell in the bathroom and within minutes, my son’s voice came over my watch to ask me if everything was ok. Last night, I sat in my massage chair, and asked “Alexa” to play the top musical hits from when I met my wife in college. I closed my eyes and it brought back wonderful memories.
And although I technically live alone, I have one of the greatest companions I have ever had in my life — Tina, my personal assistant robot. Life ain’t bad.
Back to 2017 now: I recently returned from the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas — the largest, electronics show in the world where the most innovative cutting-edge technology products are introduced each year. Nearly 200,000 people attended and wandered through some 2.47 million square feet of exhibit space.
I was invigorated by the energy and innovation that I saw. Whether these products will materialize or not, I applauded each one — even the “smart” hair brush which helps make those critical decisions about how to comb your hair.
Whether these products will materialize or not, I applauded each one — even the “smart” hair brush.
While I don’t really want a hairbrush that is smarter than I am, I can note five consumer electronic trends with great potential to help us be more independent, safe, purposeful and productive as we age. Most products are not ready for prime time yet. But if you are like me — planning and thinking about how to be as vital, productive and non-burdensome as possible as our bodies and brains start to fail — these innovations and trends represent some encouraging news:
- Put down that mouse and talk to me. Thirty months ago, voice recognition software would get one out of every four words wrong. Today, “machines” are on parity with how we hear each other as humans. Over the course of the next couple of years, expect an explosion of voice-activated things you can do — order groceries, send your son an email, turn up the heat in your home, turn on the lights when you have to go to the bathroom at night. You get the picture. Lately, much to the dismay of my spouse, I have been spending a great deal of time talking to Alexa, Amazon’s disembodied voice that lives in the company’s Echo cylinder. It is quite remarkable what she can do today, and I feel certain that Alexa will only get better.
- Let your car do the (autonomous) driving. If you have been lucky enough to be with your parents as they age, you will know that one of the hardest things to get them to do is give up the keys to the car. The car is independence. Freedom! Well within the next decade, however, you’ll be able to keep your car, tell it where you want it to go and not have to worry about your eyesight or reflex time. It will be like having your own personal chauffeur.
- I can hear you now. As we age, we all lose some capacity to hear and to distinguish certain sounds. One statistic I heard at CES was that the average person waits seven years before he or she does anything about a loss in hearing. Speaking from personal experience, we spent thousands of dollars on hearing aids for my parents, which they seldom wore. Why? Well, in addition to adding to what they perceived as a social stigma, hearing aids were often buggy — whistling and uncomfortable with constantly-dying batteries. And with little competition in the marketplace, the product has improved only slightly. However, a recent decision by the FDA has opened the floodgates to tech innovators who will be able to sell some amazing new products to help people cope with age-related hearing loss without going through doctors or audiologists. Even better? These products won’t break the bank in a way hearing aids can today. (For more information about hearing loss and how to treat it, please visit Next Avenue’s hearing loss guide.)
- I am 80 and getting a tattoo. A Chinese company at CES introduced a product that looked and worked a bit like a fake tattoo (just press on your skin and peel off, leaving something looking like a tattoo) but actually functioned like a computer sensor that monitored vital signs. Reports from the “tattoo” could then be generated and sent over the Internet to medical professionals or families and caregivers. The wearable monitoring device trend was ubiquitous at CES this year.
- My son moved out, but my robot moved in. Remember Rosie from The Jetsons? Robots resembling her were everywhere at CES this year, with companies introducing them as “babysitters” and “elder care companions.” While not yet fully realized, these first-generation companions, I predict, will be great friends to many of us as we age. (If you’re having a hard time envisioning what I mean, watch this video of a companion robot in action.)
Neither I nor Next Avenue endorse any product mentioned here. It is not what we do. What we do is hope to open doors and windows to your world for you to walk through and explore.
I am feeling pretty good about what is coming our way from a remarkable generation of innovators who are creating tools and products that will make us live fuller and more independent lives (even if they are doing it so they won’t have to take care of us)!