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Dimensions of Change

We live in a fast changing society. It seems we are reaching the limits of the capability of humans to digest technological advancements. And with singularity on the horizon, things tend to speed up even more. The question that has to be raised in this perspective is twofold: will we create a society at two speeds with those who can and those who cannot keep up the pace? And secondly, how can we synchronize this evolution with the changing dynamics of the ageing population?

Both are equally interesting but not that easy to answer questions. It's not like you can pass a law that prohibits technological advancements, or a quick win solution to the challenge of the ageing population. We will reach the point in roughly two decades where the active population will be smaller than the 65+ group. How will we cope with that as a society?

This is a challenge being addressed by organizations across the planet, including Microsoft Innovation Centres (MIC,) which is a founding member of the Agile Ageing Alliance (AAA). The AAA has joined forces with the European Commission and cross sector stakeholders in a united effort to accelerate development of smarter age inclusive homes that will empower citizens to enjoy more meaningful, healthy and creative lives, whilst seizing new opportunities for learning and social engagement.

To this end AAA conceived Neighbourhoods of the Future, a series of fact finding roadshows co-created with partners, across member states. The idea was to look at the challenge and opportunity from both a local and more holistic perspective. By way of example Microsoft Innovation Center Flanders hosted an event in partnership with Life Tech Valley in Genk, Belgium. Genk is the most multicultural city of Belgium, so has quite some challenges of its own when it boils down to different approaches to ageing in these different cultures.

Nerds will Rule
When we think about an ageing population and our neighbourhoods of the future, there are a couple of perspectives that spring to mind. Let's start with the essence - but one that is too easily forgotten - and that is the end-user him/or herself. We hear, see, read so many opinions and proposals derived from the desks of people that are often not considered "the target group". That is why a project like CareVille, is so important, giving senior citizens a voice in informing development of product and service concepts that are directed at them as potential users, even to the point they can test and make-or-break the proposed approach.

We must also pay more attention to the infrastructure side, taking account of the need to construct new homes and facilities, retrofitting older buildings and changing building codes, whilst implementing new IoT enabled technologies such as beacons, sensors and the related network infrastructure that seamlessly transits into the ICT dimension. It's typically a world buzzing with acronyms, slang and hollow phrases, but... If we want to tackle this challenge at scale, we will need IT infrastructure, software, cloud solutions and so much more. Whether we like it or not, nerds will rule the world (or as Bill Gates once said: "Be kind to nerds, chances are you'll end up working for one.")

That said, the sheer unlimited possibilities of technology combined with infrastructure will raise even more challenging questions. How will we protect the individual when every little step, every detail is measured, monitored and stored? Where do we find the balance between convenience, privacy and public good and service? That is the legal aspect of it all. One we are just starting to tackle and of which we cannot yet predict what we will have to put into these laws, because - let's face it - no one has a crystal ball to read the future. But one thing is sure. The future is coming...

A longer version of this article appeared in the Huffington Post written by the AAA's Ian Spero and Tom Braekeleirs, Director Microsoft Innovation Centers Belgium.