Rethinking the future
By Sharon Bradley
This article first appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Weekend
Fast-forward 20 years - will you be living the way you want to?
"FINITE PLAYERS play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries," wrote James Carse in his extraordinary 1986 book, Finite and Infinite Games – his "games" being a metaphor for any human engagement that has a competitive or cooperative element. The first group of players observes boundaries to determine who's lost or won, he argues; the second alters them in response to changing circumstances and, in so doing, creates a perpetually evolving game – and, ultimately, a more elegant existence.
Carse might have been describing retirement as it will look in the middle years of the 21st century. "Retirement is a boundary, a definition, a line," says futurist and bestselling author Ross Dawson. "We're moving towards a world where this boundary is blurring more and more, bringing benefits to organisations and the individual."
Thirteen countries will have 'super aged' populations in retirement phase
By next year, 13 countries in the world (including the US, the UK, Japan, Germany and France) will have "super-aged" populations in which more than one in five is 65 or older, a consequence of falling birth rates coinciding with rising life expectancy: we're adding, on average, 1.5 years to our lives for every decade that we survive.
Retirees obsessive desire to live, if not forever
Experts agree that second-wave Baby Boomers (born between 1956 and 1964) are manifesting an almost obsessive desire to live, if not forever, then for as long as humanly possible. "It's not enough to not be ill," says Michele Levine, CEO of market research company Roy Morgan. "We want to be fabulous, to be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound! There's an increasing expectation that whatever illness or disease we get can and will be cured."
By 2040 we'll be working long past the traditional age of retirement – partly to ensure we don't run out of money during a post-work life that has every chance of lasting 30-odd years, but also to satisfy a desire to remain physically and mentally alert, as well as socially relevant, for as long as possible.
Attitude towards ageing workforce will change
Dawson says organisations' attitudes towards this ageing workforce will change. "There will be a demand – and new respect – for its knowledge and experience," he says.
He cites the example of the Indianapolis-headquartered initiative YourEncore, developed by Procter & Gamble and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which connects retirees with corporations that need their skills. Grey-haired alumni return to the workplace as part-time consultants supporting the contributions of less seasoned staff in a sort of intellectual passing of the baton. Elsewhere, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's AgeLab is working with government and businesses to develop solutions around harnessing the power of a mature workforce.
Technological innovation provides independent living for retirees
Technology will enable us to live independently for longer. "We will absolutely have domestic robots, ones capable of performing quite complex tasks – making the bed, for example, or stacking and unloading the dishwasher," Dawson says. "Our home environment will be monitoring us constantly. We'll cease losing our reading glasses because our house will be able to tell us exactly where we last put them down. We'll sit down in chairs that are able to record an incredible amount of data about our physical state and, if need be, send alerts to medical staff."
Prepare also, he says, for the rise of the robotic pet, with research already demonstrating that the elderly person who pats and strokes a responsive mechanical canine derives the same health benefits as the retiree who shares her home with a live, sentient and more demanding animal.
Technology's early-diagnosis capabilities, in conjunction with our heightened vigilance around wellbeing, will likely reduce the costs of frontline healthcare even as our longevity, particularly through our most advanced years – 80 to 100, say – contributes to an overall climbing cost.
More innovative care for seniors
We can expect to see more creative, soul-enriching innovation around the care of our infirm seniors. Earlier this year, Paris-based Accenture Interactive prototyped a voice-assistant app called Memory Lane for an energy company in Stockholm, a city recently dubbed the world's loneliest because of its high number of singleton dwellers.
The app is able to conduct a realistic conversation with its user, asking "intelligent" follow-up questions in response to information it receives. Gradually, it’s able to piece together a biography of its user's life that it then saves, either as an audio recording or as a printed book, to be shared with family and friends. Accenture plans to release Memory Lane as a free app for Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
Interspace travel and driverless cars
The difficulty of getting from A to B will dissolve with the widespread adoption of driverless cars, while the long-haul jetliner may be superseded by the reusable, 100-person spacecraft. Sydney to London in just a couple of hours? "The timeline for this is uncertain as yet," Dawson says, "but interspace travel is something investment bank UBS has already earmarked as a possibly significant market."
Forecasters predict that as the ranks of older citizens grow, so too will their demands for political representation. For Levine, distrust of political process will continue to be a critical issue. "When it comes to fundamental life domains there will need to be much greater transparency between the people implementing change and those whose lives are going to be impacted by it," she says. "We will demand consultation."
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