Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for September 2009

Third Age – Age of Unbridled Opportunity

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A few points here in regard to the elderly, – the Third Age.

  • The Third Age is one of great potential for Technological Innovation.Older people are ideally positioned, not to adapt to new technologies (why on earth should they!) but rather to develop new technologies. After all, older means wiser and more experienced. Look at the facts. “… though teenagers fueled the early growth of social networks, today they account for 14 percent of MySpace’s users and only 9 percent of Facebook’s. … The notion that children are essential to a new technology’s success has proved to be largely a myth. … Adults have driven the growth of many perennially popular Web services. YouTube attracted young adults and then senior citizens before teenagers piled on. Blogger’s early user base was adults and LinkedIn has built a successful social network with professionals as its target.”

    So the New York Times, “Who’s Driving Twitter’s Popularity? Not Teens”, 25 August 2009.

  • Space is more important than time for the elderly – and in fact for all of us.This is intended in a practical sense. In retirement (in the US), 60% of people will move home. No wonder therefore that “University-linked retirement communities offer revenue for universities with space on campus, and involve small developments as well as larger. For the retirees there is stimulus, sports (golf) facilities, safe surroundings, perhaps access to Medical School and care.” (See Back on campus – Baby Boomers are flocking to campus retirement communities and, in turn, pumping money back into the school, by T. Halligan in University Business, 1 December 2004.)

    In some regions there is huge opportunity to link up with retirees, a whole industrial sector in fact. I am thinking of Ticino in Switzerland and Donegal in Ireland. Telemedicine might come into its own, at last, in a context of retirees living where they have vacationed throughout their lives – in the beautiful regions that are quite likely to be outside and away from major conurbations.

  • Ambient assisted living is a hot topic. What is the most crucial testbed of all, the most crucial infrastructure for the elderly? In my opinion, very high speed broadband. High speed broadband is likely to help too with e-inclusion. Let me look (metaphorically speaking!) for a moment at digital television. The switch-off of analog is proceeding well across the globe. With the digital dividend comes, too, a great chance to bundle data and voice, as well as digital television.We should really go a lot further: data and voice networks, energy networks, waste networks – infrastructure for all can and should be provided at one and the same time. If there is digging up of trenches then this should surely be done once and once only. If there is broadband via overhead cabling, far less expensive than underground, then this lends itself to being jointly developed as power grids are extended to take ocean or isolated windfarm sources of energy. Mutual roll-out and maintenance of these differing networks is called for.
  • Third Age Entrepreneurs.“… one in six of those aged 46-65 hope to embark on a new business venture rather than retire. This is seven times the number of possible start-ups from their parents’ generation – and could amount to one million new businesses” – yes indeed, as pointed out by L. Johnson, Tomorrow’s entrepreneurs – old is the new young, RSA Journal, Summer 2009, pp. 39-40.

    He continues: “Their experience and wisdom will be their secret weapon. Ageing baby boomers … realise that, thanks to collapsing pension provision and rising longevity, many of us will have to work until we’re well past 60. Not every venture started by a silver entrepreneur need be a new for-profit undertaking. It might be a charity, a social enterprise, a civic endeavour, a new neighbourhood organisation or a recreational club. We do not, after all, face a shortage of challenges or opportunities – across industry, politics or in communities.”

Final word: it is clear that enormous opportunity is there for the taking with older populations. I have just touched here on how the destiny of the aged is inextricably bound up with energy and environment; health and medicine; information and communications; finance; and entrepreneurship and innovation.

And reciprocally: our society needs the elderly to dig us out of the economic mess that we are currently in.


Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/09/23 at 21:30

Why Not Zero Tolerance of Road Fatalities and Injuries?

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An anniversary passed recently, the 140th, of a portentous event. According to [1], the first ever automobile fatality was in Ireland when Mary Ward, a respected microscopist, artist, astronomer and naturalist fell from a steam carriage and went under its heavy iron wheels in Birr, Co. Offaly, on 31 August 1869. In the past year, some 39,000 people have died on Europe’s streets, roads and highways as a result of traffic accidents [2]. While this figure is down on the previous year, nonetheless the downward trend is not pointing to the European target of 27,000 by 2010 (that is, 50% of the number of deaths in 2001). This target will not be realized. Globally, about 1.2 million people die each year from traffic crashes and 25 million suffer permanent disability. The current trajectory of road traffic fatalities is such that by 2020 this is expected to be the third most common cause of death. The tragedy of Mary Ward back in August 1869 goes on and on.

It is interesting to speculate on what modern technologies can offer to end the deaths and injuries in this most man-made of problems. Let me offer just a few such thoughts. Mobile phones are super abundant and location-based services are on the increase, rapidly in fact. It doesn’t have to be a matter of such mobile comms – fixed context-aware comms would be fine too.

Data transfers would lead to the potential of very powerful peer-to-peer mechanisms for the exchange of data, and ambient machine and environment data uploads. Traffic ahead, whether oncoming or receding, could provide valuable information, all the more valuable as data transfers approach real-time transfer rates. Such mechanisms could help not only with safety but with re-routing around bottlenecks and jams. On isolated country highways and byways, fixed beacons by or near the roadside could be pinged for information on ambient conditions.

The ambient machine and environment data uploads – a sort of black box recorder – would have the aim both of allowing everything to be known about an accident if such were to happen, with comprehensive learning from that; or the onboard – or in the driver’s pocket – data recorder could be linked to an insurance company such that (let us say) cultured driving earns an insurance premium rebate.

I have only begun here to envision a world where telecoms, sensors, and interaction algorithms, would meet up with road and highway engineering, transport system planning and design, and human-machine interfaces, to start with (and later financial engineering and regulatory frameworks, among other domains), in order to address this problem that just won’t go away.

This is a Grand Challenge of our time, that is addressable with modern technologies.

[1] I. Fallon and D. O’Neill, “The world’s first automobile fatality”, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 37, 601-603, 2005.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/09/10 at 23:59

Posted in Grand Challenges