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Aging: Help with the details

May 23, 2009

A crisis is on the horizon with the “Baby Boomers.” (Yawn) This, of course, is not news.

Soon there will be more of them that need assistance than society can pay for.

Soon there could be more of them than there are employed in the work force. This goes beyond money: There won’t be enough time for the following generations to attend to all the details of their aging parents and grandparents. And the list of details will grow larger as they grow older.

Because of the improvement of medical care in recent history, this group will remain healthier for a much longer period of time than previous generations. This will lead to a span of years (a gray area?) when most of these individuals will be alone yet would benefit greatly from (require?) some personal assistance.

Cassandra, a dedicated synthetic agent, could be a big help with appointments (doctor, classes, parties, etc.), lists ( shopping, to-dos, gifts, etc.), reminders (telephone calls, send birthday cards, trash day, etc.) and other such things. But she could be more than just a schedule manager, she could get a sense of the health and well being of the person she assists: Sleeping more? Skipping doctor appointments? Cognition lapses?

We have been told (and suspect it is true) that playing games forestalls dementia. Cassandra could be a more engaging opponent (or team mate) than a computer alone.

Cassandra is unlikely to convince anyone that she is “a person” but it is very likely that she would eventually be embraced as a “technology assist”. Think of all the non-human things we delegate details of our life to: Snooze alarms, thermostats, cruise control, ABS brakes, toasters, MS Outlook, “out-or-office” email responses, auto-pilots, blood glucose meters, spell checkers, scooter shopping carts, … The list of simple agents that we use (trust and rely on) is very long.

I trust my coffee maker to grind and brew my java at 6:15am and then keep it warm for an hour.

I am ready to delegate more. Who wouldn’t?