By 2046 half of the world’s population is predicted to be over the age of 50. With the future of tech inextricably linked to the aging of the population, there will be social and economic challenges galore in supporting this demographic shift.
How will our social safety nets, from old age security to employment insurance to health care, cope with an ever-smaller number of tax payers supporting an ever-increasing number of retirees? How will we maintain infrastructure when tight budgets and austerity are the norm, and how can we transition to ecologically sustainable “walkable cities” with so much of our population past their prime?
As with many of humanity’s challenges, our solution to these economic and social challenges will depend entirely upon the evolution of technology. The future of tech could present previously unimaginable solutions to our ills, or it could be stagnant, leaving us to solve the next two decades’ worth of problems with only the tools we have today.
If we do end up in a dystopia of our own making, it is unlikely that a lack of innovation will be to blame. The technology in today’s research labs will be commercialized over the next 20 years, commercially viable technologies in R&D labs today may be our salvation. One area of particular promise is medical wearables. Wearable computing isn’t exactly new, and basic medical wearables are already commonplace. But remote patient monitoring offers the tantalizing possibility of catching medical issues before they become serious, easing pressure on the medical system and potentially adding years of productivity to the average citizen. These advances are coming from unexpected places.
Like HP Labs, for instance. Their advances in microfluidics and related technologies could result in near-real-time DNA sequencing to advanced blood filtering mechanisms, according to TechTarget. Windows Central reported it has already led to critical and complex handheld diagnostic equipment.
HP Lab’s microfluidics research is also giving rise to everything from better ink-based printers to more complex additive manufacturing to fluidic computers, Nautilus notes. Think 3D-printed houses or meals tailored to your exact nutritional and caloric needs. Similarly, the largely high-tech-based augmented reality technologies of today will combine with printable computers to take wearable computing beyond watches and toward sensors woven into the very clothing we wear. All of this will be powered by computers, but the computers themselves will be practically invisible.
Unlike the embedded systems of today, the ability to print biodegradable electronics cheaply will mean the computers powering tomorrow’s technology will be disposable. Less “have you tried turning it off and on again” and more “throw it away and print a new one.”
What we think of as high technology will be as commonplace tomorrow as a washing machine or toaster is to us today. We won’t spend a lot of time thinking about how these computer-driven devices work, we’ll just use them—often automatically.
This future is blended reality. Beyond the Internet of Things, beyond the internet itself, the future of tech is the interweaving of electronics, robotics, always-on connectivity, wireless and machine learning into every aspect of our lives. Millennials are said to be “born to the internet.” They have lived most of their lives with the sum total of humanity’s knowledge available on a small device they carry around in their pockets.
Those who come of age in the middle of this century will never have known a world without next-gen technologies like meals tailored to our blood chemistry, and self-assembling, infinitely customizable 3D-printed homes.
The future of tech looks set to enable us to work productively for more years than we do now, while living lives less burdened by medical issues, in greater comfort than we do today. In the face of this, how we deal with our aging population may well require that we redefine what it means to age.