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Posts Tagged ‘ict’

We all are moving fast. The baby-boomers (1946-1964) are coming of age … retirement age. If the silent generation (1920-1945) was the generation that absorbed the car and the telephone as routine communication tools, we would expect the baby-boomers to take information and communication technology (ICT) as their routine communication channel.

That is the case and, when dealing with today’s problems, the expectation becomes a truism. We all jump into using ICT to solve many of the aging problems that baby-boomers encounter. And, as it happens, this is the view that the European Commission holds: ICT is here to solve the ageing problem.

If we take the use of internet as a yardstick, the reality is that only 45% of the +65s use internet once a week or more in Europe. Descending to country level, the differences are striking: in Norway that figure is 82% and 12% in Bulgaria.

So, should we jump from analogic to digital in the blink of an eye or are we going to find the swimming pool empty? Wouldn’t it be more realistic to work on long-term structural change from analogic to digital transition, similar to the energy transition favored by the UN in the current COP25?

A transition of that kind will ensure that nobody will be left behind, a very important factor when we are talking about 55% of the +65s Europeans.

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If you come across anybody who has not heard of Internet of Things (IoT) be careful, the person surely comes from another planet. IoT is at the centre of any ICT research. Everybody is developing devices, claiming that these will interconnect to anything you already have or will have.

And yet, at home we still have several remote controls for our smart TV, for recording devices, and for the all present black box that allows us to enjoy hours of the most degrading TV shows. Of course, the sound system runs under another completely different set of remote controls: for the CD player, the tuner, not to mention the necessary turntable that we have brought to life again after having been convinced that the sound is a lot more natural on an analogic record than in a digitalized CD.

IoT’s promise is that all our gadgets will be interconnected inside our homes and even with the exterior. A different problem is whether I really want my fridge to send messages to my grocery store to replace that uneatable marmalade that my daughter in law gave me and that I have been struggling to finish for the past two months.

Although the promise is great, reality strikes back. As of today, only 6% of American households have a smart-home device, and 72% of Britons have no plans to adopt smart-home technology in the near future (The Economist 11.06.2016). Of course it does not help that some of the smart gadgets like the Samsung´s smart fridge goes for almost $ 6,000.

IoT marketing is probably missing the point, as has been the case in many new ICT developments. Putting the focus on the ICT novelty will not attract people. Unless the smart-home gadget solves a real problem, it is difficult to convince people to adapt it. Technology is available today for doing almost anything that anybody can think of. The problem is the generational divide. Young people full of energy devise new things that are meant for older people maybe two or even three generations apart. Have they asked those people what they really need? Have they participated in every phase of the development?

Just as a marker, go to the pictures of any of the ICT gatherings in the world and try to spot anybody older than 65. Even those gatherings especially dedicated to ageing, like the yearly AAL Forum which I have attended many years, are packed with young people full of ideas that will be tested on older people just because the rules say so, not really because they feel like it.

And then we come to the pure ICT problem of interconnectivity. It is essential to develop a common standard to allow seamless connectivity among gadgets from different makers. From what I know, that is being done more or less for industrial IoT, but something similar for the domestic domain is lacking.

In all, my bet is that IoT as something integrated in everyday life is a long way off. Only a concerted effort to develop an overall global standardisation, coupled with real intergeneration symbiosis, will bring forward the realization of the home IoT.

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e-Health has been around for a long time; we could even say it is an old feature in today’s world. But yet, who is really using e-Health today? Do you know of a friend, a neighbor, a relative using any of the many gadgets that are part of e-Health? Don’t focus only on the internet, that is not e-Health by itself. The internet provides information, albeit a lot more information than what we used to have at home. Certainly a lot more, and up-to-date, than the classic “Our bodies, ourselves” which probably a lot of my readers haven’t even heard about and that, by the way, has moved to the www.

Let´s go through the process that has brought us to this point in the history of e-Health. The first push came from the R&D organizations. More specifically, the European Commission, through its many R&D programs, has been financing research for years into what we know today as e-Health. Millions of euros have been lavished all over Europe to make e-Health a reality. As always, in the USA the private sector has been the driving force behind this endeavor. The result is a myriad, I could safely say even a milliard, of what is known as Personal Health Systems and other types of gadgets and integrated e-health systems.

The second lever for securing a wide permeability of e-Health is the people, i.e. the patient or the primary user. The use of ICT technology by the population is increasing by leaps and bounds. The older population, probably the strata that could most profit from the use of ICT tools to maintain their living standards, is changing radically. There is very little in common between the older population of today, and the future older population coming out of the baby boomers of the post-war. A recent study in Spain by Fundación Telefónica reveals that the population older than 55, is using internet for productive proposes (e.g. banking or filing taxes) at the same level as the rest of the population. And it is in these population strata in which the use of smartphones applications is having the biggest boost.

The secondary end user, the socio-health professional, is obviously an important lever for spreading the use of ICT socio-health applications. Although maybe a little dated, PwC released a study in 2012 on m-Health concluding that “Healthcare’s strong resistance to change will slow adoption of innovative m-Health”. A closer look at the study reveals that it is the skepticism of the professionals that hinders the extensive use of m-Health in particular and e-Health in general. Because I believe that unless professionals prescribe e-Health gadgets with the same confidence that they prescribe today a medicine or a treatment, e-Health will not take off.

But for that to happen, the fourth lever has to act. This is no other than the socio-health care system; in Europe led by the public sector. It is very telling that while one branch of the public sector is pouring money into R&D, the other branch is simply ignoring the fact that ICT tools could save a lot of money in taking care of the socio and health ailments of the population they are covering. Is it so difficult for the politicians responsible for R&D and those in charge of the socio-health system to talk to each other? Apparently so, but I would appreciate your views on the subject so that among all of us we could find a path to a better and more e-Health world.

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