Towards the Cognitive Home - A Challenge Roadmap

The ageing population is a major socio-economic shift associated with both opportunities and challenges. Opportunities for social innovation to move away from outmoded conceptions of age that will lead to a richer set of possibilities later in life, and challenges most notably relating to an increased demand for health and social care. These challenges shouldn’t be overblown, but equally can’t be ignored. Digital technology is a key enabler. The location for much of this technology to support us in our daily lives is the home. 

Technology for future homes has significant potential to make our lives easier as we get older, providing: 

·        Greater degree of interaction and communication;
·        Personalised support and care services, delivered remotely;
·        New outlets for our skills and creativity.

The Agile Ageing Alliance (AAA) aims to reimagine our ‘Neighbourhoods of the Future’ to meet the needs of an ageing population. This challenge cannot be addressed through the lens of a single sector or discipline, and there is a need for a more holistic, collaborative and open approach to research, development and commercialisation. In a white paper entitled ‘Neighbourhoods of the Future- Better Homes for Older Adults – Improving Health, Care, Design and Technology’, commissioned by McCarthy & Stone (the UK’s largest developer of retirement housing), AAA coined the term ‘Cognitive Home’ to describe a new breed of ‘age-friendly’ housing, aligned to innovations in technology, business and service models. 

The Nesta Challenge Prize Centre (CPC) has been looking at the issue of housing to support an ageing population since the runner up for the Longitude Prize 2014 proposed a prize for home-based solutions to improve the lives of people living with dementia. Since then CPC have run the inclusive Technology Prize and the AAL Smart Ageing Prize around assistive technology and digital tech for an ageing population respectively. The CPC is continuing to seek to understand how challenge-driven innovation can play a role in helping us to age well, to take advantage of the opportunities and mitigate the challenges.

It was therefore a natural fit for the CPC and AAA to team up and invite expert stakeholders to join forces to break down the challenges in developing and delivering the benefits of a ‘Cognitive Home’. 

Some outcomes from the day are discussed below. 

Technology development is not a problem

There was a broad consensus that the state of the art was not a barrier. That’s not to say there is not often a disconnect between designers and end-users and a need to promote user- and human-centred design. It is also not to discount the distance yet to run for technological development, such as the use of A.I to automate and personalise services, the challenge is more about finding appropriate application of existing products and overcoming barriers to adoption.

Data is the foundation 

Intelligent homes will be built on data. Data is a route not only to improved and personalised products and services, but to business models that shift payment away from end users and government. But data needs to be accessible, for the individual owner and institutional user as well as the developer. A need was identified for greater data transparency in terms of both where to access data and how data is used. The balance of openness and privacy was thought not to be pitched correctly at present, with an over-protectiveness around data-sharing that stifles innovation. This is not to discount ethical concerns around allowing commercial entities to capitalise on the wellbeing of individuals via their health data. Collaboration on data-sharing is needed between different data collectors, developers, civil society groups and regulators to address these issues. 

Everyone speaking the same language 

While data will be the bedrock of the Cognitive Home, devices will have to work together, and interoperability is a fundamental challenge that requires collaboration and /or standardisation and open innovation could make a difference here. Beyond machine language, the human language used around tech and ”the elderly” can be confusing and inconsistent, with different sets of vocabularies used to describe the same issues. At the same time language can be patronizing and stigmatising and put off potential consumers as well as innovators in the space.

The space to experiment

The burden of evidence for adoption by health and care systems and a risk-averse environment are barriers to innovation. Government-led projects are often slow and lack agility, while more innovative start-ups struggle to both experiment and scale because of risk averse providers and regulators. There needs to be more space created to take risks and to build evidence of the case for digital health and care solutions. This requires work between private, public, academia and third sectors to create pilots and share the evidence and data created. 

Video:Meet the stakeholders and see how you can get involved.

Then visit www.agileageingalliance and complete the form on the contact page.

With thanks to CPC's Richard Duffy and Orpa Haque for their invaluable contribution. For more information on the Nesta Challenge Prize Centre’s work on ageing and other topics, email challengeprizes@nesta.org.uk