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The Future Age:
Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now
The Future Age: Life Reimagined
Tune into The Future Age podcast, where we explore creative solutions in reimagining what life could look like as we get older. Topics include: the future of work, transportation, 3D printed homes, aging and AI, agetech, and more.
Listen Now

The Possibilities of AgeTech

Episode Summary

Dive into the world of agetech. Host Zannat Reza navigates the promising field of agetech with Keren Etkin, a gerontologist and global agetech author. Together they delve into a world where technology meets aging, discussing the tremendous opportunities being unlocked by agetech startups and the unique challenges they face. They explore the transformative role of AI chat, such as GPT, in this space and address the critical issues around data privacy in the digital age.

In the second part of the conversation, Keren introduces the concept of 'high-tech, high-touch' aging, envisioning a future where technology works in harmony with the human element in elder care. They discuss the financial side of agetech, exploring how venture capital plays a pivotal role in the growth of the industry. Additionally, they dig into the impact of initiatives like EnvisAGE in providing Canadian startups with a gateway to the burgeoning agetech market. This episode is a tour-de-force of the agetech landscape, offering a comprehensive outlook on how technology is reshaping our perception and experience of aging.

Show Notes

Zannat interviews Keren Etkin, a renowned gerontologist and global age-tech evangelist. Join us as we navigate through the nuances of agetech, its future, and the transformative potential it holds for our society. Explore the intersection of AI and age-tech, and how it's reshaping the way we age. Listen in as Keren explains the growth of funding opportunities, the importance of privacy, and shares her hopes for the future of aging.

Episode Guests

Guest Image

Keren Etkin

The Gerontechnologist & Author, The AgeTech Revolution

Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Zannat Reza: Have you heard of agetech? It's technology that improves the lives of older adults. And we're not talking about simple solutions like making screens and buttons larger. We're talking about tech like the Nobi Smart Lamp, which alerts caregivers when a person falls, or Onward Rides, which is a ride sharing service for older adults who aren't able to drive.

[00:00:27] And these products aren't just made for older adults, but with them, many of these companies bring older adults on board during the design process to make sure they're creating the kind of tech, people both want and need. So Canada's moving towards joining the “super-aged” club of countries; so that means one in five adults will be over the age of 65 by 2026.

[00:00:49] And because of that, there's a growing need for gadgets and programs that make it easy for us to live in our homes and communities. So how can agetech meet our needs as we get older? And what's the biggest challenge to get these products on the market? I'm Zannat Reza; welcome to the Future Age Podcast, where we explore creative solutions in re-imagining what life could look like as we get older.

[00:01:12] For this episode, I spoke to Keren Etkin, a gerontologist, and that's someone who studies the process of aging to help older people live better lives. Karen actually calls herself The Gerontechnologist because she's an agetech expert who's known for her list of solutions from around the world. We had a fascinating conversation about the potential of agetech, including social robots. That’s right; robots that act like social companions.

[00:01:38] Keren Etkin: Social robots are designed to basically work with the social aspects of us as humans. So they're designed to communicate with us, the way we communicate with each other intuitively. And it doesn't necessarily have to be with speech, it can be with body language, it can be with sound effects, it can be with LED lights.

[00:02:02] And we built ElliQ to be a social robotic companion. So she's a new type of entity. So she's a machine, and everyone is aware that she's a machine, and she's designed to look like a machine or an IKEA lamp. And she's also designed to interact with her user and she can, not just listen to commands and execute, but she can also initiate the interaction so she can decide based on user's habits and preferences and certain goals, whether now is a good time to engage her user, and if so, what is the right type of interaction for this particular moment in time with this particular user?

[00:02:45] So with one user, as they get up in the morning, they might like it when ElliQ says, "Hey, good morning, how'd you sleep?" And another user might not want to hear anyone talking to them before they had their coffee. So she might either not say anything, or just like flash the LED lights to acknowledge their presence.

[00:03:03] Zannat Reza: How does ElliQ know that you would like to hear good morning, versus nothing?

[00:03:09] Keren Etkin: So, basically what ElliQ can do is learn her user's habits. So, if she said good morning to you once or twice and you did not respond, maybe not a morning person, or maybe you said shut up, which people might say.

[00:03:26] Zannat Reza: And ElliQ would understand this if you said, “shut up”, to ElliQ. She would be like, okay, this person doesn't want to talk to me.

[00:03:34] Keren Etkin: Yes, absolutely.

[00:03:36] Zannat Reza: That's great. Now, are people comfortable talking to an IKEA lamp?

[00:03:41] Keren Etkin: Apparently, yes. I mean, when you, when you think about it, we talk to our phones, right? You say, Hey, Siri. Hey Google. You talk to your Alexa or Google home device, so why not talk to ElliQ, which looks like an Ikea lamp, right?

[00:03:57] Zannat Reza: But you mentioned body language. How does this lamp have body language?

[00:04:02] Keren Etkin: She's a tabletop robot, so she doesn't move around the house, but she's able to move somewhat. And so, if she does something wrong, she might like bow her head as she says, "I'm sorry, I got it wrong." And, if she got a text message from a family member, and the family member sent a picture of a dog, she'll display it on the screen and she might, like, turn her head slightly to look at the screen with her user.

[00:04:29] So it's sort of like a, we're doing something together, we're looking at this picture together. And she might comment, "Hey, that's a cute dog.", or something like that.

[00:04:37] Zannat Reza: I have seen pictures of ElliQ and I actually may have seen one in real life. It sort of reminds me of a mini droid, as in what you might see on Star Wars, but it's a tabletop version.

[00:04:52] So Karen, can social robots replace human connection?

[00:04:56] Keren Etkin: I don't think they're designed to replace humans. People aren't necessarily getting, the amount, or the quality of human connection that they want. So ElliQ can facilitate that human interaction, it can facilitate video calls, it can facilitate text messages even for people who are not tech savvy. Or, for people who are tech savvy, but they just don't want to fiddle with their phones, or they just don't want to get to the computer, for a video call. And also, if we're looking broadly at the robotics category and we're looking at service robots, I think [00:05:30] what service robots can do for us, is actually replace some of the manual labor that caregivers currently do, and actually free some time for human caregivers to do the things that are uniquely human, like providing companionship and emotional support for the person they're caring for, whether it's family member, or it's your job.

I mean, if I'm looking into my future when I'm 90 and, my grandchildren come [00:06:00] visit me, I want them to just sit down and have a conversation with me. I don't want them to be busy changing the light bulb or arranging the pantry, or taking out the trash. I think the robot can do that, and my grandchildren should sit down with me, you know, have a piece of cake, have some coffee.

[00:06:19] Zannat Reza: That sounds fantastic. What are some of the trends that you're seeing in agetech?

[00:06:26] Keren Etkin: I think one of the, one of the trends that, I don't think it's new, but it's been going on for several years, is that health is moving into the home.

[00:06:36] You really don't have to go to your doctor anymore if you don't want to, or if you're just, or if you just need to fill a prescription. And also, you don't necessarily need to go to your doctor even if you need to get some physical examination, because there are sensors today that you can get to your home that will enable your physician to do an effective examination.

[00:07:01] Zannat Reza: Doing virtual assessments took off during the COVID 19 pandemic. Places like Stanford University and the National Institutes of Health provide healthcare professionals with guidelines to conduct virtual assessments that previously needed patients to go to a clinic. Some assessments like checking blood pressure, your pulse, oxygen levels do need equipment. But to scope out other problems, the clinician can ask the patient to do simple movements, like taking a deep breath in and out to check for wheezing.

[00:07:29] In addition to virtual healthcare, Karen goes on to say that agetech has the potential to create new housing models for those who want to downsize, but don't want to live by themselves in a smaller apartment, or go into a senior's living facility. So, how can robots help with housing?

[00:07:45] Keren Etkin: Currently, housing for older adults, very, very, very few senior living communities actually have robots in them. But I think looking into the future, I think what we'll see, is we'll see real estate developers trying [00:08:00] to look for how they can offer housing solutions for older adults, and how they can be competitive in offering that. And I think what we'll see, not, not so far into the future, this could be like five or 10 years from now, is we'll see that when they build these properties, they will have sensors embedded in the walls that will basically allow your home to sense what you need, and maybe [00:08:30] provide it. So, what you need could be either emergency assistance, if it senses that you've fallen down and you're not getting up by yourself, or, it can be something as simple as adjusting that temperature, or it can be having your robot chef prepare your breakfast when the house senses that you're getting out of bed.

[00:08:51] Zannat Reza: I've got to tell you, I want a robot chef. I hope it's got some really good recipes. So, I read one of your blog posts on the Consumer Electronics Show that happens every year in Las Vegas; what were some of the coolest agetech innovations that you came across?

[00:09:10] Keren Etkin: When I look at CES, I always make sure to look at the accessibility awards, because there are always some really cool start-ups who win that particular award, and CES this year was no different. So, the prime example for technology [is tech] that really changes [00:09:30] people's lives. And, while they might not necessarily be serving a huge market, so it's not, it's not Facebook or Google that's serving billions of people, but even impacting 1 million people who are visually impaired, or helping even 500,000 people, who are deaf to, be engaged in society and to have conversations with their friends at a restaurant. And there was a really, really cool start-up that made [00:10:00] glasses with captions for life basically, their name is, Xander, and the product is called XanderGlasses, and it was actually created by an MIT Media Lab alumni.

[00:10:12] Another really cool product for people with visual impairments or people who are blind, it's a technology that already exists in cars. It's like a type of technology that basically warns you when you're about to collide with another car or get a [00:10:30] pedestrian. They basically, I guess, minimized it and they put it in a chest strap sort of, and then it sort of allows the person who is blind to navigate the world. It basically tells them, “Hey, there is an obstacle ahead, hey, you need to take a right turn here, hey, you need to stop because you're on the edge of the cliff. Stop whatever you're doing and and call for help.”

[00:10:55] Zannat Reza: What are some of the opportunities in the realm of [00:11:00] AI? ChatGPT is taking the world by storm, and I'm sure there's a component of AI that intersects with agetech.

[00:11:09] Keren Etkin: First of all, there are already start-ups in the ecosystem that are utilizing AI for various purposes. So, the one example would be start-ups who who have monitoring solutions and monitor people's wellbeing, and they're able to detect changes [00:11:30] in in patterns that may indicate, for example, an increased risk of falling or cognitive decline. So that's one way, where AI is already being utilized. And also, when we are looking at at ChatGPT and generative AI, I think what we'll see in probably the next year or two is, start-ups who use generative AI and basically ChatGPT to create conversational [00:12:00] products. So, if you take, for example, basically any, any product that is able to have a conversation, either by using voice or by text with their user, currently everything has to be scripted, right? You as a product manager, or whoever is working on the product, you have to figure out in advance what types of interactions your user can do. So, either they can ask for the time, or the weather, or ask the machine to make some coffee, and then the machine will have a clever joke. Everything has to be scripted, whereas with ChatGPT, it doesn't necessarily have to be.

[00:12:39] So it opens up a whole world of possibilities for people to create conversational products that are better, and more fun and never boring and maybe not as frustrating as existing chatbots are. We've already seen a ChatGPT based product released, which is Apo from Carevocacy. So Carevocacy is a startup that does, um, and digital literacy training for older adults, and they have taken their massive knowledge that they have accumulated throughout the years, and created Apo, which is a virtual assistant for tech training.

[00:13:20] So you can go to Apo if you sign up for the wait list, it's currently in beta, and ask Apo, "Hey, how do I set up my new iPhone, how do I turn on captions in Zoom, how do I start a FaceTime with my friend?", all sorts of questions.

[00:13:39] Zannat Reza: You bring up a really interesting point in terms of data that's collected, it's stored somewhere. What are some privacy issues around this?

[00:13:47] Keren Etkin: We're in an era where we do, like, we have daily concessions and we, and we give away chunks of our privacy every day, for an in exchange for [00:14:00] convenience, right? Because if you use a smartphone, you have your location on, and you share it with your, whoever built your phone, whether it's Google or Samsung or Apple, you do that because it's convenient to you.

[00:14:17] And you could use a simple phone that doesn't track your location quite so accurately, but you choose to use a smartphone. So that's the way I see it. It's up to us as [00:14:30] consumers to just be aware of what we're doing and to read the privacy policy. I know most people don't bother with that, but if you're concerned with that, I do encourage you to read the privacy policy and read if you're installing an app, what types of permission you're giving this app. If you're giving an app permission to view your photos, are you comfortable with that? If not, don't install this app. I mean, we don't, we we're, we [00:15:00] live in an era where everything is so readily available to us that we forget that we can do without. And you can, you just have to be mindful.

[00:15:10] Zannat Reza: I think you make a good point. I actually would love an app where it would scan the privacy policy and actually tell me in real English what it actually means. That would be awesome.

[00:15:22] Keren Etkin: I'm pretty sure ChatGPT can do that.

[00:15:25] Zannat Reza: Because there are so many interesting things happening in the agetech and AI space, we've dedicated an upcoming episode to just that topic.

[00:15:33] As for Karen, while she could be considered a disruptor in the agetech world, she prefers to be called an evangelist.

[00:15:40] Keren Etkin: The challenge that most start-ups face today is distribution. Because technology is so advanced these days that you can basically build anything if you have the right team and enough money.

[00:15:53] And funding is, yes, it is challenging for agetech start-ups, but it's not the biggest [00:16:00] challenge. The biggest challenge is distribution. It's getting your product in the hands of people, and because this ecosystem is fairly new when you think of it, most of the start-ups that are on the market map didn't exist anywhere [years] ago.

[00:16:13] We need to raise awareness that this exists.Becasue people currently, all the adults and family members and elder care professionals don't necessarily know what's available to them. And I think it's something that we have to do together as an ecosystem, to raise the profile of this entire ecosystem, and to raise awareness that these solutions exist, so that people know to look for them.

[00:16:37] And the saying is that a rising tide floats all boats. So I guess I'm, I'm doing my best to, to help raise awareness and to shout from the virtual rooftops that this is such an amazing ecosystem with so many amazing solutions for the various challenges of aging. So I guess that's why I like to, to call myself an evangelist, because I go out, out of the ecosystem and I talk to people and I tell them, This is amazing. You need to be paying attention, this will happen to you. You too are growing old. You will become a caregiver. Pay attention. That's basically what I do.

[00:17:12] Zannat Reza: Let's talk about money. So you're saying that relatively speaking, it's easy-ish to get funding for agetech, and I've also heard that there's more and more venture capital funding that's available.

[00:17:28] So can you talk a little bit about that? So where's this money hiding?

[00:17:32] Keren Etkin: So I, I don't think it's easy for agetech start-ups to raise funding. I think it's easier, because you know, everything is relative. So there are dedicated funds like Third Act ventures, and Primetime Ventures, and 1843, and Zeigler linkage, and Mediterranean Ventures, and if I forgot anyone, I apologize.

[00:17:54] So there are dedicated funds who are looking at this space and investing solely in this space; so [00:18:00] there's one, that's one aspect of it. And also, generalist funds and digital health funds are also investing in this space. When we look at total amount of investing in the space, the number of deals has grown year over year, so more start-ups are getting funded, and also the total amount of funding for the entire ecosystem has grown, and it's in the hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

[00:18:24] Zannat Reza: So if I'm a founder of a start-up, how do I access some of this venture [00:18:30] capital funding. I mean, do I literally go knock on doors?

[00:18:34] Keren Etkin: So knocking on doors is one option. Because it's just a small ecosystem, it's also relatively easy to get a warm intro to an investor. And also there are tons of start-up pitch competitions these days.

[00:18:48] These start-up pitch competitions that happen all over the world are not just a great way to get some prize money, which is always nice, but also to get your name out there, [00:19:00] and to get in front of investors. So, in some of the pitch competitions, investors will actually be judging, so it's a really good way to get in front of people, but I would definitely recommend the warm intro above anything else.

[00:19:15] Zannat Reza: So it sounds like there's a lot of interest and opportunity in the world of agetech, and while we do have a few products that are on the market, many are waiting to be scaled. The challenge for companies is to have more opportunities to test out their results in real world settings, so that products can get to market faster.

[00:19:34] And that's where the envisAGE initiative comes in. It helps Canadian start-ups and small to medium size businesses access the growing national and international agetech market. EnvisAGE is co-led by AGE-WELL and MEDTEQ+ with an injection of 47 million from the government of Canada. So, while we wait for large scale availability of agetech solutions, companies like Best Buy Canada have started to bundle existing technology to help older [00:20:00] adults build smarter homes.

[00:20:02] So, smart switches, motion sensors, and even better lighting can help make a home safer and more functional. They even have a service to set it all up and teach customers how to use technology. So other companies like Telus, have partnered with Apple to develop a watch that's customized for older adults, and this includes a larger screen, health monitoring capabilities and an easy-to-use interface.

[00:20:26] Now, this can be paired with their living well companion service, which can help detect falls and provide 24 hour emergency monitoring. And these are important tools for older adults and their caregivers when considering how to stay safe, promote physical activity, and maintain independence. The future of tech is looking friendly.

[00:20:49] All right, Karen, so we're going to shift gears and I'd love to ask you two questions that we're asking all our guests. So the first one is this, finish this sentence In 10 words or less, the future of aging should be...

[00:21:06] Keren Etkin: high tech, high touch. But I want to add to that, what I said earlier, I think it should be a combination. And so we should delegate the manual labor to machines and robots and leave it to humans to do really the things that are uniquely human.

[00:21:21] Zannat Reza: I would say that's more than 10 words, but fair enough. All right, so now let's time travel to when you are a hundred. What does your ideal life look like?

[00:21:31] Keren Etkin: Well, if I make it to a hundred years old, which I hope I do in good health, my ideal life would be in a quiet place surrounded by babies, not, not mine, obviously, because I'm a hundred years old; someone's babies, puppies, kittens, all of that. I think that's all I'm going to ask for

[00:21:57] Zannat Reza: A big thank you to Karen for a fantastic conversation on all things agetech.

[00:22:03] Thanks for joining us for this episode, to learn more and for transcripts, go to Listen to new episodes by following us wherever you get your podcasts. And if you're liking our podcast, leave a review on Apple or Spotify and be sure to share it with your friends, family, and colleagues.

[00:22:21] The Future Age is brought to you by SE Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise, whose purpose is to bring hope and happiness to the lives [00:22:30] of Canadians.

[00:22:31] It's produced by the Future of Aging team and Podium Podcast Company. For more information, visit