Quick Takes From The Recent News Stream

No time this week to write a full blog, so instead I figured I’d just
provide quick takes on some random items that have crossed my virtual
desk – on immigration, whether 65 is middle age, the ironic science museum and combining technologies.

Immigration to the US

Metrocosm has
put up an animated map show immigration to the US since 1820.  
Considering the current debate in the Presidential campaign, it offers
some under-reported insights.  See http://metrocosm.com/animated-immigration-map/


Is 65 Middle-Aged?

The Marist Poll is
frequently cited for its surveys of voters.  Dr. Lee Miringoff, the
Director, has for a few years used his own birthday to assess how the
public views age.  He just turned 65, so the question of the year: Is 65
middle-aged?  Turns out that most American think so.  You can see his
explanation in this video http://bcove.me/vcbs1k25 and the Marist report last week “5/3: 65 Stands Strong as Middle-Aged”

in an election year in which the three remaining Presidential
candidates are older than Dr. Miringoff, it does seem that 65 is the new

The Ironic Science Museum

Then, in sort of a follow up to my previous report
about rising seas in Miami Beach, I read this story filled with irony.
Miami is in the process of building a glorious science museum, which
has had the usual kind of fiscal and management issues.

But Tuesday this week an article
appeared with this headline: “Miami’s Doomed Frost Museum of Science Is
a Monument to Ignoring Science … What do you get when you celebrate
science and ignore scientists?  Fish in the lobby.”  It shows how rising
seas will come right into the lobby of the museum – and we’re not
talking about the planned aquarium.

Depending on how you look at
it, this story is somehow sad, funny, and ironic – and a warning for
all people with ambitions that touch the waterfront.


Combining Technologies

With all sorts of new
consumer technologies that are connected to the Internet, it’s only a
matter of time and creativity for people to integrate those technologies
in useful ways.  Case in point is Jason Goecke, the hacker who used his
Amazon Echo – thank you Alexa! – to get his Tesla to drive itself out
of the garage.  You can see for yourself in this video: https://youtu.be/CAP3DbyOtGE

He posted his story at the end of last month here:  http://www.teslarati.com/tesla-model-s-voice-command-amazon-echo/

© 2016 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved


Was It The Year Of The Wearables?

At the very beginning of this year, I posted about the popular theme then that 2015 would be the year of wearable technology. Has it been?

Last week, Fortune magazine reported:

“While the Apple Watch has carved out a sizable chunk of the wearable market share this year, the number-one manufacturer of these devices, Fitbit, remains the same. According to IDC’s latest numbers, in the third quarter, overall wearable device shipments were as high as 21 million units worldwide — a growth of 197.6% year-over-year. And this year’s launch of the Apple Watch has contributed to the increase, with IDC reporting 3.9 million units of the iPhone-connected device shipping in the third quarter.”

So the sales of Fitbit and the Apple Watch are good. I even received a Fitbit as a present and wear it — although not all the time. (I’m also not sure that carrying my iPhone on my belt counts as a wearable 🙂

It’s fair to say that we’re still not at the point where most people are wearing these devices. The numbers are bound to increase, though, as the products improve and new ones, like the Oculus Rift, become available.

Nevertheless, it was a year of great creativity by inventors and designers of new, sometimes even fun, wearables. Many have only been made public in the last month or so. Let’s take a look.

Glasses — Augmented Reality Devices

While Google withdrew its Glass product, some interesting applications arose anyway. Last month, the Canadian Journal of Cardiology posted online a proof-of-concept study, in which the physicians found:

“The projection of 3-dimensional computed tomographic reconstructions onto the screen of virtual reality glass allowed the operators to clearly visualize the distal coronary vessel.”

Also, a few weeks ago, Volkswagen announced that, after a pilot test phase, they would equip the workers in their Wolfsburg plant with “3-D smart glasses”. One of the plant executives noted “The 3D smart glasses take cooperation between humans and systems to a new level.”

Of course, one of the issues that Google ran into is that these glasses look geeky. To address that problem, a spinoff of VTT in Finland has developed and will release an alternative little screen that fits onto regular eyeglasses and provides a virtual display equivalent to 60 inches.


The Wall St. Journal reported last month that NEC “has created a user interface which can display an augmented-reality keyboard on a person’s forearm, using eyeglasses and a smart watch”, thus extending both technologies. (You can see a video here.)


Smart Clothing

Perhaps the most interesting, but least reported, products are essentially smart clothing — truly wearable technology 😉

The engineers at Thalmic Labs continue to develop the Myo with their armband that understands your gestures to control the actions of a computer. It had its general release this year and the company is encouraging an app market for it.

They were not alone. Among others, Apotact Labs completed a successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of last month for its Gest product. They promise it will track gestures much more accurately by monitoring your fingers and hands, as shown here.

Taking gesture tracking into a somewhat different direction, researchers at the University of Auckland wrote a paper about their

“soft, flexible and stretchable keyboard made from a dielectric elastomer sensor sheet … [that] can detect touch in two dimensions, programmable to increase the number of keys and into different layouts, all without adding any new wires, connections or modifying the hardware.”


In May at their annual I/O conference, Google release a video and information about its Project Jacquard, “a new system for weaving technology into fabric, transforming everyday objects, like clothes, into interactive surfaces.” They apparently have a partnership with Levi Strauss to use this fabric, so maybe someday you won’t ever have to take your smartphone out of the back pocket of your jeans.

Then in June, the Engineering School of the University of Tokyo announced that it had

“developed a new ink that can be printed on textiles in a single step to form highly conductive and stretchable connections. This new functional ink will enable electronic apparel such as sportswear and underwear incorporating sensing devices for measuring a range of biological indicators such as heart rate and muscle contraction.”


You can see their video about it here.

Sensoria, best known for helping runners with its smart sock, teamed up with Orthotics Holdings to announce a new product for 2016 — the Internet-connected Smart Moore Balance Brace that is intended to help seniors avoid falling. That’s a significant issue for about a third of seniors every year, which often happens outside the sight of physicians who can only guess what might have happened. With the Internet connection, this device can report various key aspects of a senior’s walking.

The Next Generation May Already Be Starting

While the wearables market has not yet peaked, Reuters already had an article that predicted, as its headline said: “As Sensors Shrink, Watch As ‘Wearables’ Disappear”.

It opened up this way:

“Forget ‘wearables’… The next big thing in mobile devices: ‘disappearables’.

“Even as the new Apple Watch piques consumer interest in wrist-worn devices, the pace of innovation and the tumbling cost, and size, of components will make wearables smaller — so small, some in the industry say, that no one will see them.

“Within five years, wearables like the Watch could be overtaken by hearables — devices with tiny chips and sensors that can fit inside your ear. They, in turn, could be superseded by disappearables — technology tucked inside your clothing, or even inside your body.”

I’ll follow up on that last point in a future post, but I’m taking off for the holidays, so this is my last post for the year. I wish all my readers a very happy holiday season and a great new year!

© 2015 Norman Jacknis, All Rights Reserved


Living Long In A Networked Age

This post was started in 2010 in Australia, when I was asked to speak at the biennial world meeting of the International Federation on Ageing (www.ifa-fiv.org/) and the World Health Organization.  They were interested in my early work on socio-economic trends in this networked age.

I don’t like giving packaged presentations and much prefer to talk about things that have some meaning for the audience.  So I did some research on aging and tried to work out in my mind what are the implications of the growing digital network on the way that we live longer.

This post is a summary of that thought process.

First consider the traditional view of aging, perhaps more prevalent in the general public than among experts.  

Basically, as you get older, this view says you will get increasingly debilitated and immobile, have to retire from the work force, become dependent upon government financial support and personal service from others, and spend much of your time in medical facilities.  There is no doubt that some of these things can happen and eventually the body does wear out.  

But is this a necessary picture of aging in today’s world? Not when people can be connected by broadband networks that, increasingly, include video capabilities which really make it feel that you are together with others who are far away.   

First, let’s deal with the dissociation from the work force.  In 1900, 71% of the American labor made goods or food.  This was often back-breaking work, the kind of job that indeed did become untenable for the elderly.

But, by 2000, only 21% of American workers are still in the business of making goods or food.  The rest provide services, increasingly intangible services that are created on computers and delivered over the Internet.  

One of the consequences of this is that many people no longer go to a job.  Their work goes to them wherever they might be.  It is so common that people are working at home or in locations outside of the offices of their employers that many companies have found they need half the space per employee that they did ten years ago.  

So when people are faced with reduced mobility, whether it is due to a skiing accident or the aging of the body, it no longer means that they cannot work and earn a living.

Is this relevant to seniors?  The Pew Internet and American Life Project has found that 41% of those over 65 are online.  Among the next wave of potential retirees,  those between 50 and 64, 74% are online.  

Even a couple of years ago, you could find a story about “Seniors finding social networking exhilarating” (from The Dallas Morning News, October 12, 2009).  And many of us have seen grandparents connect with the grandkids via videoconferencing and social media.

Ok, you might say, that seniors might be able to work, but do they want to or do they wish to just live off their savings and government help?

In an article entitled, “Successful Seniors Who Won’t Retire”,  Business Week featured 105 seniors a couple of years ago who won’t quit, with Jane Fonda as the prime example.

There have been recent research studies about this very question.  Labor force participation by seniors has gone up in recent decades.

In another Pew study, they reported that 12% of current retirees already work for pay.  More than three quarters of current workers expect to work for pay after retirement – 60% because they want to and only 30% because they have to work to make ends meet.  The authors conclusion:

“The latest Pew findings suggest that retirement is a phase of life about which public attitudes, expectations and experiences are in a period of transition.”

This is not just an American phenomenon.  Xinhua News reported:

“About one third of the retired people in Beijing want to keep on working to earn more and to stay in touch with society.”

Although age discrimination is widespread in hiring, it is counter-productive. Other research has found that “Older Workers Had Higher Educational Attainment Overall Than Older Non-workers.”  

Of course, those people, no matter what their age, who have higher education are more likely participants in the knowledge economy – the intangible, digital part of the economy.  Thus the labor force participation rate of those with advanced degrees was about three times that of those with less than a high school education.

But what about the disabilities that seem to be part of aging?

Among those who work with seniors, there has been a movement called “universal design” whose aim is to ensure that every room in a home or other building is designed with ease of use.  For example, look at the work by the NCSU Center for Universal Design (http://www.design.ncsu.edu/cud).

Their goal for seniors is to prevent accidents, like slipping in a shower.  (The point has been made, of course, that these improvement also help those who are no so old.  Anyone can slip in a shower if it’s not properly designed.)

In this century, we can do more than be careful with traditional physical design. 

There has been much in the news lately about the “Internet of things”, which is a phrase that describes the increasing number of sensors and other devices without direct human interfaces all over the world, including in our homes.  

This enables architects to design a blended virtual/physical environment for seniors that can monitor their safety and health.  For example, it is possible to build in prevention and detection of falls among seniors.

Being always connected can mean always having access to tele-health.  I’m thinking of what exists now.  There are all sort of devices to monitor chronic diseases, which means that doctors can remotely diagnose and catch problems early before they become critical and expensive.  

These devices allow for a range of options for senior, instead of unnecessary commitment to a long-term care facility.

In the future, sensors that transmit from inside your body and that help repair your body will become available and take tele-medicine to an extraordinary new level.

The connectivity of seniors at home can also lead to better health outcomes as was demonstrated in the Vermont Telecare for Rural Health Project.  They ran a successful, multi-way interactive tai-chi exercise class for those over 70 who did not leave their homes.  As the leaders of the project noted:  

“We know that exercise is helpful for senior patients, but we can’t get to them. And we know that Tai Chi helps keep seniors healthy, increases their well-being and balance.“

So even home-bound seniors with chronic diseases can still participate in the economy and the wider society.

Ok, you might say, we can overcome some of the physical handicaps that sometime accompany aging.  But what about the mental degradation? the intellectual stodginess that is part of the common view of the elderly?  Aren’t seniors unprepared to participate in an economy in which innovation is a critical element of competitive success?

In many, these views are misleading or irrelevant in this century.  Let’s start with the irrelevant by observing our own children and how they use the Internet.

Is a quick and expansive memory for details something they cherish, even among themselves, when there is the Internet to look up almost any fact?

Is it necessary to worry about reminders when "there’s an app for that”?

But the misleading part of this view is more interesting, if less well known.

There was a time that it was assumed that only the very young were creative.  However, there has been more recent bio-medical research on the resilience and continuing growth of the brain even among older people.

There was also the interesting research by the economist Galenson who focused on artists, among others.  In a review of Galenson’s work, Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker magazine, asked: “why do we equate genius with precociousness?" 

Galenson divided creativity into two types – conceptual and experimental.  The complete conceptual revision of some domain, be it art or physics, is often associated with the very young.  

The experimental or experiential type of creativity is evidenced by those much older since it is based on the ability to make connections among diverse experiences that only older people have had.  It is also based on a lifetime of experimentation with the world.  

In discussions of innovations in business and in driving future economic growth, it is this kind of creativity that makes the most difference.

But there is a catch, which is why many are misled about this subject.  The catch is that creativity is a collaborative act.  It is not about some lone 20 year old genius sitting on a mountainside.  As Steven Johnson put it in his book "Where Good Ideas Come From”:

“That is how innovation happens … chance favors the connected mind.” 

No matter what someone’s age, if they are not in the stream of new ideas, they will not achieve their creative potential.  Unfortunately, for most people, they are exposed to new ideas and knowledge less and less for each year they are away from college or their last formal educational experience.

Some colleges, for example Purchase College of the State University of New York, have admirably tried to remedy this by enabling seniors to audit classes for a very low fee.  But classroom instruction is expensive and not always convenient for seniors.

The Internet, however, has a vast potential to put seniors back into that stream so that they too can be innovative.  MIT has put its courses online, among other universities.  Carnegie-Mellon is leading an open learning project.  Florida has a virtual reference librarian available 24 hours a day.  There are training videos and tutorials in almost every subject imaginable.  

Especially interesting is the cooperative, free online university for seniors – University for the Third Age (U3A).  

There is just a tremendous amount of scientific and other research that used to be available only on the campus where it occurred or later in scientific journals and conferences.  Now much of that is available online.  And local librarians can help people find this, if it becomes too daunting to search through for an individual.

Public leaders in the 19th century recognized the economic importance of ensuring that all citizens could read and they created the public schools and libraries necessary to achieve that goal.  In this century, public leaders need to ensure that residents of all ages are helped to identify where they can get 21st century learning. 

Another significant socio-economic trend in this century is the increased recognition of the role played by new entrepreneurs in economic growth – and the way that the Internet makes it easier than ever to start up a business.

Thus, there is no reason that this greater entrepreneurial opportunity cannot be grabbed by a 59 year-old as much as 19 year-old almost-college-dropouts.  Apparently, this is something that older people realize.  The Kauffman Foundation highlights its finding (http://www.kauffman.org/research-and-policy/kiea-interactive.aspx) that the 

“increasing rate of entrepreneurship among older adults has led to a rising share of new entrepreneurs in the fifty-five to sixty-four age group. This age group represented 14.5 percent of new entrepreneurs in 1996, whereas it represented 22.9 percent of new entrepreneurs in 2010.”   

As we enter into the world of ubiquitous communications in this century, we will find that the traditional issues which have handicapped older people are diminishing.  This should generate a whole new way of looking at them and at this part of life – not a phase of debilitation and near vegetation, but an active life despite whatever limitations the aging body may impose.

This new outlook may be represented by a new equation, with apologies to Einstein, e = (mc)²  Enhancement of life experience results from more connectivity which leads to more choices.

© 2012 Norman Jacknis