Engineering and Aging: The Best Is Yet to Be

Men grow old, pearls grow yellow; there is no cure for it.--Chinese proverb

2 min read

The quest for the fountain of youth is as old as humankind. By comparison, the biological study of age-related illnesses began yesterday. After all, until quite recently in our history, most people didn't actually manage to grow old, so there wasn't much point in worrying about it. Genetic malfunction, microbial and virological assault, environmental catastrophe, and our longstanding inclination to kill one another usually swept us from the stage long before we had a chance to sample any of the mixed blessings of growing older: midlife crises, arthritis, enjoying avocational passions built up over decades, seeing grandchildren grow up.

Public hygiene, relatively healthy diets (well, for some of us), and fewer wars, coupled with the discovery of antibiotics and other medical advances, have worked wonders on our average life expectancies. In the United States, for example, it has gone from about 47 years in 1900 to about 77 years in 2000. And as the size of the aging population in developed countries has increased dramatically, so, too, has our interest in understanding exactly how and why we age and what we might possibly do to live a lot longer--and better--than the actuarial tables now say we should.

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Are You Ready for Workplace Brain Scanning?

Extracting and using brain data will make workers happier and more productive, backers say

11 min read
A photo collage showing a man wearing a eeg headset while looking at a computer screen.
Nadia Radic

Get ready: Neurotechnology is coming to the workplace. Neural sensors are now reliable and affordable enough to support commercial pilot projects that extract productivity-enhancing data from workers’ brains. These projects aren’t confined to specialized workplaces; they’re also happening in offices, factories, farms, and airports. The companies and people behind these neurotech devices are certain that they will improve our lives. But there are serious questions about whether work should be organized around certain functions of the brain, rather than the person as a whole.

To be clear, the kind of neurotech that’s currently available is nowhere close to reading minds. Sensors detect electrical activity across different areas of the brain, and the patterns in that activity can be broadly correlated with different feelings or physiological responses, such as stress, focus, or a reaction to external stimuli. These data can be exploited to make workers more efficient—and, proponents of the technology say, to make them happier. Two of the most interesting innovators in this field are the Israel-based startup InnerEye, which aims to give workers superhuman abilities, and Emotiv, a Silicon Valley neurotech company that’s bringing a brain-tracking wearable to office workers, including those working remotely.

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