The world is entering a period of stratospheric change, brought forth by innovations in technology, changes in global culture, and a natural evolution of the human body. The increase in the human lifespan is providing a fertile field of innovative needs. Not to get too grim here, but longer life expectancy means that attention must be paid to the growing needs of an expanding and older population. In 2015, Chinese scientists developed a way to use 3D printers to print blood vessels out of living cells, heralding a breakthrough in cost-cutting methods, and a huge leap forward in the development of machines that could print entire body organs.
According to the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, China’s over-65 population is expected to grow from 138 million in 2014 to 370 million by 2050. That same year, the number of people expected to live up to 100 or older is expected to increase by as much as 1000%.
With life expectancy hitting these fever highs in a little over thirty years, now is the moment to engage more intently with the companies using big data and tech innovation to help shepherd us into the foreign terrain. With China’s age stats growing steadily, not to mention the country’s population in general (currently 1.38 billion people), it’s no wonder that they are currently leading the pack in healthcare innovation. Below are some of the ways that the country is preparing for a brighter and older tomorrow.
mHealth is the catch-all term for a new breed of tech that merges communication-based technology with medical expertise and usage. The m in mHealth stands for mobile, making China a particularly viable market considering that the country has 1.38 billion mobile phone subscriptions currently on record. Not only that, but China makes up 37% of the mHealth market in all of Asia.
mHealth is an incredibly valuable innovator in the medical world, but nowhere is it more vital than in countries with high numbers of elderly citizens, many of whom can’t endure the physically arduous process of visiting a doctor in person. As a result, diagnoses via video consultations and prescription delivery services create a new ecosystem of both health and convenience, and responds directly to the needs of a rapidly growing aging population.
Everyday objects are slowly advancing all around us. Our phones function as computers, our watches function as smartphones, cars are fitted out with technologically-aided intuition; why wouldn’t our homes be next? Clusters of smart homes are sure to begin popping up around the world, and their ability to cater to our health needs are sure to increase with each passing year.
In much the same way that mHealth and data are being used to synthesize the medical process, new technology installed into elderly communities could not only save lives, but improve them as well. Smart homes have often been tacked with simplifying the mundane, such as cleaning, controlling temperature, managing electricity, etc. But new kinds of technology could allow homes to monitor nutrition content, body warmth, and medication scheduling.
Apple’s iPhone integrated health software into its operating system a couple of models back, pushing for health and tech to meet on a bigger scale than ever before. The central tenant of its features relied heavily on user date, much of which is utilized in mHealth as well. With China’s billion-plus population, the country’s data pool is the perfect starting point for advancements in data. Companies like iCarbonx aim to “build an ecosystem of digital life based on a combination of an individual’s biological, behavioral, and psychological data, the internet, and artificial intelligence.”
According to Mashable, companies like iCarbonx “aim to provide individualized health analyses through data mining and machine learning, and promises to bring new labels of understanding to health, disease, and aging.” By giving patients agency in their own health, the data amassed could allow for a sizable change in the world of health by capturing the nuances of one’s own needs, as well as pushing the industry to better recognize and cater to those same demands.
The future of the world—and the world of work—was on display at TEDxLugano in Switzerland earlier in September. With a theme of “Professions of the Future” the topics of the independently-organized TED event ranged from the future of robots in harsh environments to the practical realities of an AI-first world.
Beyond Artificial Intelligence
The event was a first-hand look at some of the future implications of artificial intelligence and robotics from some of the leading thinkers in that field. But going by each presentation, it added context and nuance to a topic area that often have people jumping to worst case scenarios, reminiscent of a high-budget science fiction movie.
Indeed, when it comes to AI, our culture seems to be in need of a reality check. AI isn’t necessarily the technological advancement that’s going to save the world from all its ills, but neither is it certain to be the “end of the human race” as Stephen Hawking has famously said. Examining some of the main topics that came out of this Tedx event can help give a more granular and realistic vision of the stunning developments in this field.
Robot Intuition May Save Lives
Anna Valente, a professor in automation, robotics and machines gave a stunning talk on intuitive robotics, which have the potential to aid human endeavors in myriad ways. Often, when we think about the growing sophistication of the robotics field, people get panicky and fear the worst: that robots will become smarter than humans and surpass our capacities. However, there is a massive middle ground between where we are now and robots actually taking over the world. Take, for example, the idea that Valente presented: using intuitive robots in harsh environments where human life may be at risk. Creating robots that could intervene in natural disasters or conflict zones without putting human life at risk would be a helpful deployment of this field. As Valente put it, intuitive robotics can help humans “transcend the danger and amplify our ultimate senses” and unlock profound possibilities that both enhance human capabilities and save human lives.
Life After Death
Attendees were excited to hear from Henrique Jorge, a software developer and entrepreneur who is best-known for founding the social network ETER9, which uses AI as part of its core. Currently in beta, ETER9 learns the habits of its users through observing their social media posting patterns. Then, when users aren’t online, AI will continue to post in the user’s absence, amounting to a so-called Counterpart, which is a “virtual self that will stay in the system and interact with the world just like you would if you were present.” The more a user interacts on the network by posting and commenting, the more this Counterpart learns. While this might sound disconcerting to some, the goal is not supplanting human communication for AI. Rather, in his talk Jorge proposed an exciting future where AI could be used to keep the presence of individuals alive long after they’ve passed away. This concept of “digital immortality” through the merger of machines and human consciousness is just one of the exciting and nuanced ways that AI is being used.
Another topic presented was by robotics engineer Wyatt Newman. Newman explained how “robotics, automation and Artificial Intelligence are continuously transforming the working world” which means that the skills and jobs we will need people to be adept at in the future could look very different from what we need today. While much has been written about this hypothesis in the media, most of it fuels fear of the future, not fostering an attitude of possibility. As Newman said in his talk: “The robot revolution is here, but is not to be feared. It is our hope for the future.” Through tactics like smart automation, finding new and more nuanced roles for human workers and using robotics for tasks that humans can’t fulfill, we can find a space for robots in the future world of work that does not eclipse our human world.
A highlight speaker of the event was computer scientist and inventor Jamil El-Imad, whose interests span in Virtual Reality (VR), brain signal analysis, Big Data and Brain Computer Interfaces (BCI). At the event, he debuted his “dream machine” which helps users harness mindfulness to reach peak human experience. As El-Imad intoned in his talk: “Imagine you are in Zurich, your friends are in different countries and you all wish to go to a motor racing or football event together …. technology is changing our live experience” in ways we couldn’t have imagined just years ago.
The work of the TEDxLugano speakers showcases the ways that the fields of AI and robots are not things to be feared, but rather celebrated and explored, as the human race progresses and evolves into the future.