Small, Gray and Feminine – The future of aging in the US

2 04 2010

Skydiving at 92? (Source: Faded Tribune)

As part of the MIT Future Freight Symposium on March 11th, I attended a talk from Dr. Joe Coughlin of  the MIT Agelab. Dr. Joe Coughlin is a leading expert in demographics and behavioral changes due to aging – I highly recommend his blog disruptive demographics for more data and insights on aging. In his talk, he painted a picture that resembled a “nation of Floridas.” In a nutshell, trends are pointing towards a small, gray and feminine future.

Small

The fastest growing household in America is the single person category. 30% of the Americans above 65 now live alone and this trend will only accentuate, as one out of five baby boomers is currently living alone. While we can expect some of them to downsize and move closer to urban centers for convenience and fun, we foresee that most of them will downsize their habitation in the same neighborhood they grew accustomed to. For your reference, 70% of Americans live in suburban and rural areas. Naturally occurring retirement community in urban centers (NORC) is a currently observed phenomenon but will remain a niche segment.

However, small only applies to the size of their homes; not to their purchasing power. On the contrary, trends show that baby boomers will want to stay active and will want to enjoy life to the fullest. It is then worth noting that older adults control $1.6 trillion in buying power in the US, and that’s expected to increase by 29% over the next five years. Read the rest of this entry »





Iraq, Afghanistan and the re-engineering of human beings

10 01 2010

Exoskeleton from Raytheon (Sarcos Lab) - found on singularityhub.com

It only took a TED video from Aimee Mullins (link here) to start connecting some dots I had¬†completely¬†overlooked till then. Born with missing fibula bones, Aimee had both her legs amputated below the knee when she was just a child. Using specially designed prosthetic legs, she nevertheless competed in the NCAA Division I 100m dash and long jump against able-bodied athletes. She never considered herself as disabled but she rather saw in her missing leg an opportunity to be creative about her body. She now has twelves pair of legs, which allows her to change her height up to 6 inches. In the video, she mentioned how one of her friends became jealous of her ability of changing height at her will and even call it “unfair.” As Aimee puts it, recent innovations in biomechanics and even genetic engineering spark a whole new debate on how “disabled” may open the door to “super-abled.”

The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have not only killed more than 5,000 americans; but they are also responsible for hundreds of thousands of wounded veterans. Amputation are unfortunately quite common which leads to believe that groundbreaking innovations are to be expected in prosthetics thanks to significant public funding. This reminds me of three years ago when I saw a person walking on bionic legs around MIT campus. Hugh Herr‘s work at the MIT Media Lab is indeed quite amazing. As an amputee himself, he developed electronically activated ankles and systems that allow him to walk without constraints. The company IWalk has already made such products a commercial reality.

Read the rest of this entry »