Take That, Ageism! “Mature Adults” Lead Technology Innovation at Chicago Ideas Week

Chicago Ideas Disruptive Technology

Maybe in the future instead of “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” you could shout into your empty house “I’ve fallen now get me up.”

That seemed to be the logical evolution of what Dr. Joseph Paradiso, PhD Professor of Media Arts & Sciences, MIT Media Lab, was saying as he spoke as part of the Technology: Disruptive Innovation talk during Chicago Ideas Week. Or, even better, you could wear a wrist band that today allows you to turn on the light across the room with a simple Miss America wave, but by tomorrow a flick of the wrist could summon your robot companion to boost you back up.

Houses that would anticipate your needs, machines talking to one another and turning on lights, setting thermostats, preparing for your normal trajectory and daily habits from the moment you turned your key in the door (Wait. Key? Really? How old fashioned! Can’t your car tell the door to open when you pull into the garage?) Why should George Jetson be the only one getting the ‘royal treatment.’

So, yes, this post is about how technological and amazing the world is getting. But the even more exciting thing about this is that, at least from this panel, it’s OLD PEOPLE who are innovating and leading the way. Now that is revolutionary!

Chuck Salter, Senior Editor of Fast Company facilitated this conversation about “the way cutting-edge technologies impact how we all do business.” I know, you are probably thinking “cutting edge,” “disruptive technology.” This will be a panel of young people and I will go to see if I can’t see what’s coming down the pipeline—at least stay ahead of my clients and try not to become obsolete.

But did you hear what I said? Technology and old people in the same sentence!

Dr. Paradiso, who is 50+, is world renowned and doing amazing work in the area of responsive environments—If I understood correctly he predicts cell/smart phones are already becoming obsolete and that technology will become more closely allied with our human beings—with wearables or implantables (and did someone say that we may be able to store our memories, literally, in the Cloud?)

The program kicked off with Doug Oberhelman, who is Chairman & CEO of Caterpillar, who is 62. (I also couldn’t help but wonder if he was coached to wear the uber-cool outfit he was sporting–you looked good, Doug—black skinny jeans with black top and leather jacket—does he have a teenager who said “Dad, don’t go on stage to talk about technology looking like an old fart.”) But, he was spearheading an initiative that was revolutionary for engineering and manufacturing in partnership with Uptake. Uptake Co-Founder and CEO Brad Keywell is also Founder and Co-Chairman of Chicago Ideas. At 46, Keywell is still considered relevant by society for four more years—but clearly an old guy to millennials.

With the collaboration between Caterpillar and Uptake they are building sensors into every nook and cranny part of their big equipment that is sending data back to ‘computers’ (I use the term loosely) in real time. Says Oberhelman, In the olden days (next week) if a piece of equipment broke down on the Kennedy or in Switzerland or Peru, a technician would go on site, evaluate, then first order parts and wait for them to come. With this new collaboration, they are building to a day where not only would the sensors let technicians know what was broken and needed to be fixed before they stepped out the door, the sensors could also provide data on equipment condition so that planned replacement (aka no down-time with tooling or equipment at all) could be scheduled. Via sensors feeding data to ‘computers’ you would know the condition of any tool, tractor, piece of equipment anywhere in the world at any time, right from your smartphone.

So this amazing, eye-opening news came from people who are 50+, 46, 62.

I don’t want to diminish the brilliance of the men in question by only focusing on their age (OMG welcome to a Woman’s World!) but I can’t tell you how many times in conversations with people over 50 they say “just get a teenager to do it, they’ve grown up on this stuff,” referring to social networking and technology.

There’s a parallel to successful business owners, age 50+ who have experienced successful careers and who plan to be in business for another 15-20 years. The tools may have changed–but the basic tenets of business stay the same–solve a problem for someone and do it better, faster than your competition. Promote your business so that people can find you. Know what you don’t know and build collaborations or surround yourself with people who can teach you or do it for you.

Knowing how to operate something will never replace strategy and evolution and implications of applications—that can only come with age and wisdom and years of research and experience. And that, friends, is a badge of being “old”.

Don’t believe me? Just ask the most interesting man in the world…he’s 73.