Yes, you read that correctly—1 billion with a "B"!
Last week, more than 6000 researchers and students gathered in San Francisco for what the aging world commonly refers to as the "Olympics of Aging". Every 4 years, the International Association of Geriatrics and Gerontology puts on a conference to gather the brightest researchers and educators in the field of longevity and aging.
Age is partially an attitude. It's also heterogeneous. No one person experiences aging the same way making the field more complex complicated and interdisciplinary.
Unlike infants, who generally have similar experiences (e.g. an infant with Down syndrome will behave similarly to a baby born without extra genetic material from chromosome 21), the experience of older individuals may vary more significantly. (E.g. an older person with Down syndrome might experience Alzheimer's disease while his or her peer without extra chromosome material may instead experience dementia or may perhaps be unusually healthy both physically and/or cognitively).
For me, the interdisciplinary nature of aging makes the field more interesting and challenging.
Because aging touches so much, experts in attendance of IAGG ranged from an epidemiologist PhD candidate working on a thesis on HIV transmission among older populations to robotic engineers, economists, and multi-generation living professionals. Most of the 6000+ attendees are educators, students, or have varied interests in aging research.
I attended the conference seeking the answer to one question: Are global educators in the field of aging also concerned about not having enough talent to fill the demands of their countries' aging demographics?
The answer: Yes!
I know that global operators and those who work in aging in fields outside of academia are highly concerned about workforce because they are dealing with the detrimental outcomes of an overreliance on immigration to fill demand.
It was interesting to find, through conversation, that in general, educators and researchers around the world are somewhat to very concerned about the workforce shortage in their own countries. This is wonderful news in the early stages of connecting education to workforce demand, which is the mission of Connect The Ages.
Alex Garland's 2014 independent blockbuster Ex Machina takes AI and machine learning to the next level. It is a wonderful and haunting film about human nature and technology (I'd rate it a Rotten Tomatoes 100, not 93!). It probes its audience to think more deeply about Elon Musk's current warnings about the potential threats of AI.
IAGG had a Tech Day with a wonderful turnout. A group of robotic researchers, engineers, and entrepreneurs shared their experiences with robotics and aging in an engaging panel discussion. I'm interested in this extreme because many people believe that robots will soon take over a majority of caregiving roles in the competitive market. In the US and in many cultures, our current aging populations are likely to reject this technology, even if it were functionally perfect. Right now, it's far from perfect.
It seems likely that technology will supplement jobs in aging, not take them. If you enjoy film, aging, and technology, another movie to check out is Robot & Frank (Dr. Joseph Coughlin from the MIT AgeLab referenced this film in his IAGG presentation). It's not as heavy as Ex Machina and avoided the uncanny valley well by making the robot a non-humanoid machine.
Robotics is a long game.
In Japan, older adults are more likely to be okay with robots touching them because they prefer this to being touched by some people for cultural reasons. It's also hard to get older adults to participate in robotics research in some countries. We need to keep focusing on education and workforce development within our individual countries to fulfill both the job and cultural demands of our aging populations.
We cannot rely on immigration and technology to bridge this workforce deficit.
There is an important market gap widening with a globally aging population: caregivers and aging professionals are lacking. In our current moment, it seems society maintains an unhealthy reliance upon immigrant workers. The reliance upon these immigrant workers in the United States and across the globe is simply unrealistic, as we move steadily toward a world with more than a billion people over 65. Additionally, there is a false idealization of technology's place in bridging the workforce gap. Robotics and aging-specific technology remain in their early stages of development, and may potentially pose a number of larger societal threats. There must therefore be a massive workforce shift to rise to the occasion and step up to the plate to go to bat for an aging population.
If you would like more highlights from #IAGG2017 checkout this Moment.