There are things that you cannot evaluate just on everyday time scale. We know very well the difficulties we experience, for instance, when a geologist tries to describe us the evolution of our planet or a biologist the evolution of the life on the earth, just to mention a couple of obvious and extreme time scale examples.

A part the last two examples there are a number of borderline phenomena that are, let me say, in the middle. In some cases, changes, including positive and negative effects on other things around, of a give phenomena on a time scale can quite easily appreciated but we do not accept those changes. One of such phenomena is the demographic shift that is around us.

During last days I enjoyed to read a report that a group of colleagues of IBM Research and the Consumer Technology Association produced that investigated around the growing aging population challenges. Of course, demographic shift is a major

societal problem, its existence and importance is well known the report investigates the phenomena and which role technology could play to mitigate its negative effects.

The study points out that meeting the needs of a growing aging population will require a systemic approach including contributes from new technologies, partnerships, ideas and business models.

The report also discusses how technology such as cognitive computing will empower seniors to live longer, healthier and more independent lives by preventing fraud and abuse, providing greater social connectivity and improving access to vital information and services.

The full work (titled Outthink Aging) is here:

Main findings/passages I liked (mix of things!):

– The world will include nearly 10 billion people in 2050, more than one out of five of whom will be age 60 or older, compared to just 12 percent currently. In many countries – such as Korea, Israel, and Singapore – babies born in 2050 are expected to live nearly 90 years on average, fueling a continued rise in the share of the world’s population made up of older adults – a shift that has already taken place in Japan, Italy, Germany, and other countries (source United Nations)

– Demographic shift is a global phenomena: The percentage of aged individuals (age 65+) worldwide will double from 2010 (12 percent) to 2050 (25 percent).

– Aging is a local phenomena too: for instance, aging in US is quite different story of aging in another country, as well as aging in one part of US with respect to other US parts. Aging in a city is quite different of aging in rural areas. From a technology perspective, infrastructure will also vary depending on the location. For example, seniors will have different levels of access to broadband, mobile, and other online capabilities.

– Aging population is diverse. The numeric age of a person is not a clear indicator of who they are or what they need. Aging represents a spectrum of abilities and issues, and any attempt to address these challenges must recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

– No one application, device, pill, legislation, or other magic solution can address the diverse challenges raised by an aging population. Meeting the needs of the newly dominant senior generation will require new business models, breakthrough collaboration, and an openness to new ways of thinking.

– Technology is part of the solution. To address the complex and crucial challenges of an aging population requires a major attitudinal shift in the technology sector. Technologists tend to think of people as users. We design devices and applications to meet defined needs and to provide an appropriate user interface and experience. But human needs are complex and not easily met through technological fixes alone. The aging population is not a user group. After all, plenty of devices – including much-touted smart devices, voice-enabled applications, and more – are already available to this audience. But these technologies only scrape the top of the iceberg of opportunities to address the needs of an aging population. Acceptance isn’t automatic – it must be earned by truly addressing core human needs. Not just coming up with the next big thing

Last part of the study reports a brainstorming exercise that has been completed specifically looking on how cognitive computing and AI methods could help depicting three macro uses cases that it could be interesting to implement.

Use cases are also a set of recommendations on where to start to work to mitigate the problem, such as:

1 – Deliver integrated and fused Knowledge to the point of usage.

Today, non-profits and agencies connect with a range of individual partners, (e.g., financial institutions), to provide services such as healthcare discounts, insurance plans, travel benefits, intellectual community involvement, and entertainment. Rather than a one-to-one relationship with a single non-profit or agency, the reports suggests that partners could tap into a central cognitive computing platform that combines consumer preferences, industry data, and public information, uniquely and securely. This will help older adults and caregivers get answers they need, simply and easily. The availability of large-scale, integrated sets of consumer data, combined with the power of cognitive computing would give agencies and technology providers new insights and knowledge needed to quickly develop targeted new offerings and expanded partnerships.

2- Cognitively-Powered “Town Square”.

Aging individuals want to stay connected within a community, one that provides support, services, social opportunities, advice, and more. While some communities are lucky to have a central physical space for its residents to gather and share stories, others are turning to technology to help provide that important sense of connection. Leveraging a cognitive platform such as IBM Watson with its standard APIs, any number of entities – from cities, towns, agencies, hospital networks, or telecommunication vendors, could quickly build a virtual community platform, personalized to each person’s unique physical and cognitive abilities. Partners could easily plug-in their services and offerings, creating a customized, scalable and extensible online experience ranging from home repair, shopping, medical support, educational opportunities and social events.

3 – Prevention of Elder Fraud.

Most fraud management systems and solutions are designed for a general population, and not an aging population, despite the fact that seniors are more vulnerable. Using a cognitive platform, banking and investment institutions could integrate existing financial models – together with market data, government and regulatory agency reporting, as well as monitoring financial transactions – to build a comprehensive financial persona for elderly individuals. This would define elements such as how they spend, how they purchase, what they do, and what kind of fraudulent activities are happening – all critical information that can feed back into the financial model and fraud detection systems, continuously and instantly.

Aging is a strange phenomena. It exists perhaps on a time scale that we are not used to be, nevertheless, it exists. The elders are a sort of migrants that actually do not move, so they are apparently invisible.

Pietro Leo is an Executive Architect in IBM, CTO for Big Data Analytics in IBM Italy, a well-known Innovation Agitator and Analytics maker. Member of the IBM Academy of Technology Leadership Team (#IBMAoT) You can also follow him on Twitter (@pieroleo)

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