Many of you will doubtless recall a classic cartoon from the early 1960s: The Jetsons. Apparently set a hundred years in the future, the Jetson family lives in a world where robotic and instantaneous conveniences abound (and let’s not forget the flying cars).1 To help out around the home, they have a robotic “maid” named Rosie; because, why should humans be tasked with menial chores in the future!
While technology has progressed considerably since then, we don’t quite live the life of convenience akin to that of Mr. Jetson and his family. However, we do live in an era where technology can help us in numerous ways that even the writers of that cartoon could not have envisioned: enter the world of artificial intelligence (AI). Encompassing a swathe of different technologies and devices, AI will change and improve our lives – including for those of us in middle life. And it’s to that subject we now turn.
What is artificial intelligence (AI)?
But first, for those unfamiliar with AI, simply put, it is “the ability of a computer program or machine to think and learn. It is a field of study which tries to make computers ‘smart’.”2 Using collected data, it is the aim of AI to give computers and related technology the ability to think and react like a human being.
How is AI helping those in later life?
So, what good can – and will – AI do for those of us who are 50 plus? In actuality, AI is already hard at work.
1) Monitoring health using AI-enabled devices. These wearable devices can use AI to track and detect changes in health and biometrics (such as pulse). Many of these devices can then send alerts to the person’s doctor to warn of any dangerous changes. Some devices can even detect a fall at home. 3
2) You’ve probably seen ads for in-home assistants like Google’s Nest or Amazon’s Echo (using “Alexa”). These AI-enabled machines can help perform numerous tasks, including giving reminders about when to take medication. Forgetting has never been harder! 3
3) Move over beauty creams and Botox, AI is deeply involved in anti-aging research. One such firm using AI is using it to understand the biological mechanisms behind aging, while another is using AI to find ways to “end aging” (!) and disease related to aging.3
4) Fitbit and other fitness trackers. These are wearable technologies that can also monitor health metrics, but are used especially for exercise. They have the ability to estimate the steps you take, the distance moved and calories burned, as well as heart rate. You can also wear it at night, and you’ll be able to see a report about how well you slept.4
AI for “aging in place”
With more people wanting to remain in their homes longer, many researchers are using AI to help people achieve this goal (using some of the devices listed above, and, others). This is especially crucial considering the rapidly aging Canadian population, and the huge increase in healthcare costs that will accompany that aging.5
Research is already ongoing to develop AI-enabled robots that can assist with chores around the home, among other things. It is hoped that these technologies will be able to allow people to live more independent lives in their own homes.
Some important considerations to keep in mind
As promising as AI technology is when it comes to aiding people in later life, there are steps that should be taken to ensure ageism – or other abuses – don’t creep in to its use and design.
One researcher at Laurier University found that older people expressed fear in using new technology, and may be slow to adopt it, or may use it in ways not anticipated. 5
Issues of trust and privacy were also major concerns. As the researcher at Laurier, Josephine McMurray said, “Because you have large and unprecedented amounts of personal data being collected, this could bring up new ethical, privacy and legal issues. These technologies cannot violate human dignity or personal privacy.” 5
The World Health Organization (WHO) also published a piece about the application of AI technology for older people. To prevent ageism – bias against older people – the WHO gave advice to do so, including:
- Having older people partake in the design of AI-enabled technology
- Having a variety of people with different ages involved in the data science and data collection behind AI/AI tech
- Ensuring people have the right to consent to the use of these technologies, and importantly, the right to refuse as well6
What does the future hold for AI?
We are only in the formative ages of AI-enabled technology. While what the future holds for the design and implementation of AI is unknown, it’s likely to be astounding. Older people can look forward to living fuller, more independent lives with the help of AI, but as shown, this should be done with the utmost of respect, and education too. AI should not become a burden, nor should people feel like their lives are dominated by AI. But if done correctly, AI will help enrich lives across the globe in the years to come.
Wikipedia, The Jetsons.
Wikipedia (Simple English), Artificial intelligence.
Sanyal, Shourjya, How Is AI Revolutionizing Elderly Care, Forbes, October 31, 2018.
Udavant, Sakshi & McGinley, Ciara, What is a Fitbit and how does it work? Plus, everything you need to know about setting up your Fitbit, Woman & Home, August 11, 2021.
Elworthy, Kimberly & Kawawada, Karen, Designing AI to aid seniors, Laurier Campus, Spring 2018.
World Health Organization, Ensuring artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for health benefit older people, February 9, 2022.