Technology automation.  It’s such a complex subject with enormous ethical and privacy questions, but at the same time it’s very easily become a natural part of our lives. We think nothing of using smart phones and watches, even robotic vacuum cleaners and voice-activated task managers such as Alexa or Google’s Assistant to make our lives ‘easier’. We embrace their ability to manage ourselves (a touch ironic perhaps): allowing them to monitor everything from our steps to our REM sleep. 

Meanwhile, the world around us is filling up with monitoring devices at staggering rates. There are over 4Million CCTV cameras in the UK: 500,000 of these are in London alone - in fact, the average Londoner is said to be caught on camera around 300 times a day.

How these cameras are being used and how much of your data is being collected (and stored) is a troubling question for many.  Clearly, policing benefits. The Chinese Government arrested an individual from a crowd of 60,000+ concert goers (Read here) using facial recognition technology. The same Government is also developing a program called ‘Sharp Eyes’ to collect hundreds of pieces of information about all citizens in order to create a social welfare ‘classification’.

The NZ Wellington City Council ran a smart city trial a couple of years ago using cameras and sensors which could detect the sound of broken glass, the smell of vomit and use something called ‘geofencing’ to monitor whether people were staying in an area too long, which may in turn suggest suspicious activity or someone in need of assistance.

Whilst the world’s data is rapidly growing, robots have also been moving out from the factory, with their automation abilities already applied in the healthcare and hospitality sectors. 

I recently listened to a BBC World interview where a surgeon spoke with marvel about how he had been able to operate on a patient in an ambulance 8,000 km’s away using robotics. He described it as like being able to reach his own arm across 1000’s of km’s to carry out the lifesaving surgery required.

With an ageing population set to balloon over the next two decades from being 15% of the population to around 23% we need to look at what automation means for the growing aged-care sector.  

Is the older generation ready for it?

The stereotype of older people struggling with technology isn’t supported by the stats, which speak of an increase in the use of smart phones and devices in the over 65’s category up to 78% up from 69% in just one year (source: Deloittes mobile consumer survey between 2016 to 2017). 

Of course, there’ll always be those who are too set in their ways to try something new. However, there are also many like my 88-year-old father in law. He no longer uses his landline to call us, having quickly understood the huge benefits of Skype or FaceTime to see his Grandchildren first-hand. The chance to experience more of their world from a whopping 12,000 miles away was immediately embraced. 

Smart phones and devices are one thing: but what about the next generation of technology? Is there a limit to the older demographic’s willingness to welcome in ‘new’? Certainly, the stats don’t lie. The older generation is already embracing our current version of ‘new’ and if they’re not already: their families will surely drive the speed of adoption of any new technologies as a way of interacting and keeping their aged relatives safe in their own homes for longer.

When considering what ‘could be’ in the tech landscape, we need to consider the speed at which new technologies could be entering our everyday lives. If the previous decades have been anything to go by: that pace will be hectic.  

•    Websites: the 1980s was a decade of much innovation but it didn’t have any websites. Not one. The web was invented in 1991 by Tim Burner Lee and today, there are now over 5 Billion websites, almost as many websites as there are people in the world.
•    Data Storage: 1 GB used to cost $100,000. Today’s price is 3cents and falling, allowing us to store huge amounts of data very cheaply.
•    Computing speed: In the 1980’s the world’s fastest computer was called the Cray-2 and it was run by scientists with PHD’s. The same computing power is now found in your 2006 Ipad2, which is usually run by a pre-schooler. 

Artificial Intelligence (AI) itself is nothing new: it has in fact been around since the 1980’s, (think robots in car manufacturing plants focussed on simple repetitive tasks done well). It’s the combination of cheap data and exponential computing power that’s enabling leaps and bounds in the use of AI in every aspect of our lives today, with enormous potential for the aged-care services industry. 

In our next feature in this ‘future tech and the aged-care sector’ series, I cover off in detail the future impact of smart home technology such as voice and video technology, robotics already in use overseas, and smart toilets. Yes, really: I do go there. I also review changes that could keep people in their own homes for longer - including automated vehicles and home monitoring. 

The final feature in this series goes into what the sharing economy could actually mean for homeownership: are we looking at a potential delay for entering retirement homes?

Theresa Wells, GM Corporate Sales
+64 29 414 6904