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I recently had a birthday. It happens every year: I get older. And I’m not the only one. The average age of people in the industrialized countries, China, and India is on the rise. Which means that by 2050-when some projections hold that the world’s population will peak at about nine billion, then start declining-there will not only be far more people, but also proportionately more elderly and fewer young people to care for them. Life expectancy is increasing around the globe, too.

But we won’t have to wait until 2050 to feel the impact. These trends will significantly affect all industrialized nations within 20 years-and profoundly influence the course of technology development even sooner than that. For starters, medicine in general and biotechnology in particular will get skewed more toward the concerns of the elderly. Research on ways to increase mental alacrity, decrease memory loss, suppress cancers, and treat heart disease will intensify.

But information technology, too, will see new application areas. Staying within the medical domain for a moment, demand will rise for wireless sensors embedded within people’s bodies and ad hoc wireless networks that provide early warnings about internal medical problems. Such invited bodily invasions will fare a lot better if there are concomitant improvements in privacy and security as personal information gets shuttled around.

The first likely beneficiaries of such technologies are now in their 40s and 50s. Many of them have spent the last twenty years adopting information technology wholesale, which means they will probably continue to adopt new technologies as they grow older. People will be nostalgic for the information content of their youth, and many will want to learn new things. There’s a surging tide of content out there to satisfy them; in addition to decades of TV shows-and the growing archive of cable TV documentaries-universities are globalizing their reach by offering courses and materials through the Internet. What’s needed are ways to index and search for video, audio, and images that are as simple as the search engines that help us find and understand text documents today. The aging population will provide a big customer base.

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Tagged: Biomedicine

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