Aging,Technology & Law: Interdisciplinary Collaborations

As with most innovative endeavours these days, where technologies are rapidly bringing changes in all spheres of research and product development, the aging and longevity field is no different – interdisciplinary collaborations are paramount to achieving any hope of success and eventual traction in finding practical and beneficial use in the market.

Today, while ostensibly developing quickly, these nascent technologies include everything from smart phone apps to artificial intelligence, robotics and ingestible sensors. Aging and longevity is every generations’ concern – how will these technologies enrich our society throughout our entire life course? What are the ethical and legal implications related to technology interfacing with humans, as they become part of our daily life experience as older adults?

Interdisciplinary collaborations to the rescue? Keeping track of this narrative as I do, it was interesting to read a great piece of Canadian news from last week that coincided with the 2017 AGE-WELL annual conference, which was interestingly positioned just ahead of the Canadian Association on Gerontology conference in Winnipeg.

AGE-WELL in collaboration with Canadian Centre for Elder Law (CCEL).


Dr. Alex Mihailidis is the scientific director at AGE-WELL. Having heard him speak last October, what  I took from his presentation is that he has a strong sensibility, that with these technology developments we must always draw a line of sight from the technology to the value of usability for the people being tended to in their homes, and for those who are the stewards of care.

So it was no surprise what Mihailidis said in the AGE-WELL news release, that this new CCEL collaboration, “will be a tremendous resource to AGE-WELL on a wide range of issues, including the legal and ethical aspects of developing and using smart-home sensors, robotics and other advanced technologies with older adults.” He also said CCEL’s expertise in gerontology is vital because “some legal issues are going to have very specific nuances based on our target older population.”

What a wonderful move in the evolution of the AGE-WELL organization, a leading example of how the technology sector can connect itself authentically, in an interdisciplinary way addressing some of the challenges with aging and a longevity society. All this at a time when the demographic curve of older adults is only beginning to rise and soon to include within the next decade, the gen-X cohort who have as of 2016 entered their early 50’s.

New legal knowledge for future stewards of care

Legal and ethical issues for elders are very important for boomers and Xers right now as they increasingly assume roles in care of their older parents, not to mention the fact that all these technologies will be in a greater advanced state by the time they reach their own 70’s and 80’s. As stewards of care, with powers of attorney for health and financial for example, we will all have to step up our knowledge of not only basic legal responsibilities, but also with how we manage these emerging technologies.

In the AGE-WELL news release Laura Tamblyn Watts, lawyer and senior fellow at CCEL says that they will help “create new knowledge… such as the legal issues with artificial intelligence, intellectual property and consent for the collection of metadata – these are emerging issues in law that we are excited to explore.”

We are on the cusp of something that might seem, to many people, at once marvelous and ominous. All the more reason, that interdisciplinary collaborations are encouraged and that public education follows in a more steady stream. There are enough counterproductive media pieces about the perils and promises of a longevity society even without adding any fears around technologies. So kudos to the CCEL and AGE-WELL for their thinking, as part of a new renaissance, where separate fields of study find convergence in a positive way.


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