Jody Holtzman is joining our team as a Strategic Advisor. For the past 12 years, Jody has worked in the field of aging through his role as SVP of Market Innovation at AARP, where he focused on finding ways to spark innovation in the marketplace that could benefit older adults. Jody has over 20 years of strategy consulting and futurist work, looking specifically at how unmet needs translate into product, service, business and investment opportunities. We sat down with Jody to discuss his work in the field, how the for-profit marketplace around aging has evolved, and where he sees the industry moving with new technologies.
How have you seen the aging sector evolve during your tenure at AARP?
The biggest change I’ve seen in this sector is simply the expanded national attention this demographic has attracted in recent years. The tipping point came when the first boomer turned 65 and was eligible for Medicare – suddenly, everyone is thinking about the costs involved with an aging population. And the dominant theme, although no one would put it so bluntly, has been – “We can’t afford all of these old folks.” It’s a point of view that assumes that serving the needs of over 100 million people is an unaffordable cost and financial burden to the country. But this needs to be turned on its head. Because serving the needs of over 100 million people is a humongous opportunity. But this requires a different conversation.
When I was at AARP, one of the ways I and my team tried to change the narrative was developing the concept and sizing what we coined as the “Longevity Economy.” We posed the question - What is the GDP of a macro economy that is solely driven by the consumer spending of customers over 50 years old? Turns out it is $7.6 trillion – the 3rd largest economy in the world. And roughly one-third of the US population, comprised of people 50+, is driving 53% of total consumer spending and about 43% of total US GDP. Suddenly, the perspective shifts from being a burden, to a massive opportunity - for the private sector, for the social sector, and also for government.
When you have the “opportunity” conversation rather than the “unaffordable cost and financial burden” conversation, it takes things down a very exciting path of innovation. And we have seen over the past several years an exciting increase of startup innovation activity. For example, for the competitive pitch event I created and which ran for six years, we attracted over 1,000 startup company applicants to be just one of 10 companies on stage. Of our first 70 finalists, half have raised over $200 million in venture investment.
What interested you in working with Intuition Robotics?
I am a Trekkie. I remember watching the show and seeing the members of the Enterprise talk into the air and things would just magically happen. For me, was a glimpse into the future – where we can simply go about our lives and our environment reacts to us.
I hear these myths that older people are technophobic, but I look at the older people in my life: they all have cell phones, they are on email, and they have computers. There isn’t a fear of technology; when the tech is designed in a way that it adapts to the person, rather than the person adapting to the technology, it makes things dramatically more accessible. Mainstream voice command products were the first step. ElliQ is two steps forward. It confirmed my original hypothesis, and it excited me that the technology is effectively here. The door will continue to get wider and wider as our tech capabilities increase – functionality, ease of use, learning, proactivity. ElliQ takes us down the road to Star Trek.
What are the greatest challenges that older adults are facing today?
The biggest challenges are, in many ways, non-generational – these are universal challenges that people would immediately say are essential to our lives, and not think about them as being separately relevant to older people. Independence, fun, connectedness with family and friends: these are the keys to happier and healthier longevity. Technology can play a big part in this. But what I’m seeing is not that there isn’t enough technology for older adults – rather, the technology that already exists could meet the needs of older adults better if it was designed better. Good design is designed for everyone; if it’s easier for an older person to use, or someone with a disability, then shouldn’t it be easier for everyone to use? Ultimately, older generations have had experience with computers, phones and tablets, and as times progresses, they will be more and more tech savvy. But this can be said for every generation – teenagers now are more adept with technology than someone in their 30s. The criticisms we use to dismiss older generations will persist down the age continuum. So in my mind, these challenges that older adults face can and will be met…we just have to shift the lens of the design and tech communities.
Are there challenges in aging that you think aren’t receiving enough attention?
It wasn’t until very recently that the aging industry started really looking at the non-medical aspects of aging, specifically loneliness and connectedness. I look at these two things as being different. You can be an astronaut on the ISSS and have total connectedness, because your environment and your vitals are monitored 24/7 and you can video conference in with ground control, with your family, with a classroom full of kids. Alone but connected to hundreds. But many older adults live in cities of thousands or millions of people. But their situation is the opposite – surrounded by thousands and connected to no one. These are non-medical issues, the social determinants of health, that are increasingly being recognized that lead to bad health outcomes. If you can deal with and address problems of isolation and loneliness, then a slew of other things are prevented or delayed. So, from an industry perspective, it is making the connections across the holistic range of factors influencing our health that demand our attention.
What are your hopes for social robotics and products like ElliQ?
In my mind, technology isn’t the solution to all of the problems with aging, but it is going to be a key part of the solution. What excites me about ElliQ is that it has a personality – it is being perceived as something fun, as opposed to something necessary or helpful…even though, once you have it, it is incredibly helpful. There will always be people looking for help, but there are more people looking for enjoyment, for fun, for staying connected – all for the purpose of joy. You want to know about peoples’ lives because it brings you joy. The whole reason for living is about adventure, having new experiences, learning, laughing, fun. And, products like ElliQ fit this frame and will evolve further over time. These tools will be increasingly important to fill gaps that people can’t fill themselves; simply using tech to make these experiences easier, better and more accessible. I see ElliQ and future robotic solutions playing a key role for older adults in this way.