At the beginning of his PowerPoint presentation, Joseph Coughlin, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, flashed a number on the screen: 100. This is the age, he said, that humans can expect to reach sometime within the next few decades. “The notion of ‘100 years old’ is something we are going to have to plan for,” he said at “How Technology Can Facilitate Successful Aging,” one of the Saturday forums held on Commencement Weekend.
Coughlin, a political scientist who studies what he terms “disruptive demographics,” or the impact of a graying population, predicted that “longevity is going to change society.” The challenge, he said, is not just to increase lifespan, but also to ensure that we maintain a high quality of life as our bodies age and weaken. To do this, he said, medicine will transform a raft of diseases that are now fatal into chronic conditions: cancer will be as treatable as asthma, for example. He also said pressure from consumers will force businesses to develop new products targeted toward making life better and more convenient for the elderly.
To provide a glimpse of our future, Coughlin talked about several products that businesses are already developing. Among them are a smart toilet capable of analyzing the nutrients in urine and then providing advice on diet, a car that provides driving feedback and automatically takes safety precautions to prevent accidents, and portable homes that can be deposited in a backyard, enabling the elderly to live near children providing care—homes that could be easily removed once the parent has died.