Ageing and Implications for the Design of Cognitive Interaction Systems in the Fourth Industrial Revolution

by Lucas Morillo

I remember one time in elementary school during the 90s, when I was around nine years old, I asked my father: “Dad, why don’t we have Internet connection?”. His answer might be shocking today, but it was something like: “Why would you want one? You have encyclopaedias if you want to obtain information”.

My father was not being ignorant but as far as he was concerned, his world was going too fast. He and many others could not see how the Internet had already started to outdate physical media like encyclopaedias. Nowadays this perception of the world being technologically ahead of us is permanent and more relevant than ever. We are living ever longer, subjects of a fast-paced time in a world where the feeling of being left behind starts as soon as you blink for a second.

While developed countries have been able to control illnesses, hunger and wars in general terms, their inhabitants are feeling more miserable than they theoretically should. The rates of suicide in the first world are higher than ever before and depression levels are rising. Living in what Zygmunt Bauman called the “liquid modernity” (like water, it runs between of our fingers when trying to retain it) is exhausting. The feeling of abandonment, of not being able to offer anything to a society that we do not understand seem to be the one of the causes of some of these first world problems. Can we imagine how will this be when there are more people over 60 than over 25 years old? According to the UN, this will happen around 2050.

But there are reasons to be optimistic, at least from the technological perspective. If we stop and think about how the Fourth Industrial Revolution could improve the lives of an ageing population and we design new technologies taking in consideration their needs (our future needs!), it will be possible that nobody feels left behind, turning the double-edged-sword of a continuous developing alien technology into an inclusion tool. For example, right now the topic of autonomous cars is being sold in terms of the “comfort” of being able to do something else than driving (there is no time to lose in the liquid era), ecology, safety and, let’s be honest, in terms of power and status (like every expensive car in reality). On the other hand, autonomous driving has the potential and social responsibility of enhancing the independence of people with reduced mobility or cognitive decline. With knowledge and good will, ground-breaking technology adapted for the needs of older people could be designed. In the beginning of the 21st century, we have witnessed the development of some areas of knowledge concerned with empowering the end user, such as ergonomics or human machine interaction, so there are reasons to believe that technology development companies will consider this knowledge. At the end of the day, extending the range of potential users would also have an impact on their benefits.

In conclusion, even if we cannot slow down our pace as society and the arrival of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and its consequences, we are in a time of modulating some of its effects, and that time starts now. The will for adaptability has created multidisciplinary teams that a few years ago could have been strange bedfellows: geriatrics, computer science and psychology are good examples of this. This is nothing but heart-warming, and a fact that reaffirms that there is hope for the future in this chaotic and ageing society.