AgeLab and Bank of America Host Symposium on AI and Longevity

by Adam Felts

The MIT AgeLab and Bank of America hosted a symposium on November 19 and 20, 2020, to discuss the rapid growth of technologies driven by artificial intelligence (AI) coupled with increases in life expectancy and the older adult population across the globe.

The AgeLab-Bank of America-led symposium, titled “Charting the Longevity Economy’s Endless Frontier: How Artificial Intelligence Will Help Us Live Longer, Better,” highlighted applications of AI that will transform the way we live, work, and play across the life course. The two-day event, hosted over Zoom teleconferencing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, virtually convened panels of experts from a diverse set of industries and knowledge sectors to discuss significant changes, benefits, and risks related to AI’s proliferation within several key domains. The symposium included six panels that discussed AI’s application in healthcare, home logistics, retirement planning and decision-making, work and education, community and infrastructure, and caregiving.

The event was also a venue for the MIT AgeLab to present recent research findings on expert and consumer perceptions and expectations of AI in the context of longevity. Dr. Chaiwoo Lee, Research Scientist at the MIT AgeLab, and Surya Kolluri, Managing Director of Bank of America, Retirement Thought Leadership, set the ground for the event’s panel discussions in their conversation about the results of a two-part AgeLab study of experts and consumers on their beliefs and attitudes about artificial intelligence. While noting that consumers are generally favorable toward the use of AI in various domains, Dr. Lee observed an enthusiasm and knowledge gap between the expert and consumer panels, “which may result in adoption lags in the future.” She suggested “that there is definitely a need for establishing an accurate and consistent public knowledge of AI to clearly communicate the potential benefits and to address the uncertainties around risk.”

In her remarks early in the symposium, Lorna Sabbia, Head of Retirement and Personal Wealth Solutions at Bank of America, observed that longer lifespans have compounded the challenge of saving for retirement for many Americans. And she noted that caregivers—the number of whom in the United States is fast increasing—who manage finances both for themselves and for a loved one navigate a unique level of complexity. To help its customers meet these challenges, Bank of America has turned to digital solutions, including Zelle, a mobile payment platform, and Erica, an AI-powered virtual financial assistant. In highlighting these technologies, Ms. Sabbia introduced the key theme that both existing and future technologies driven by AI will be instrumental in addressing longevity-related needs.

Other panelists also discussed work they are doing in to apply AI in present-day contexts and industries. During the panel on community and infrastructure, Ryan Chin described his company Optimus Ride, which sets up autonomous vehicle systems in “geofenced areas” such as corporate campuses, universities, military bases, and retirement communities. “These are the places that we believe you can safely deploy self-driving vehicles and solve issues of mobility today,” he said, including for preserving the independence older adults who live in planned communities. In contrast, programming a computer to achieve more complex driving tasks, such as navigating Harvard Square during a snowstorm, is a feat of engineering that may still be a decade or more away.

The symposium’s conversations also focused on transformative applications of AI that may occur in the near or distant future. Jamie Metzl, technology futurist and author of the book Hacking Darwin, talked about the movement from standardized to precision healthcare, in which the biometrics and genomic information of a patient may be read like a “massive dataset” and treatments can be specifically tailored for that particular patient’s biology. From precision healthcare, he said, rises the future possibility of predictive healthcare—the ability of medical professionals to determine health risks in a patient “from the moment of birth and even before.” He also discussed the application of gene therapies to democratize the genetic successes of so-called super-centenarians—people who live a decade or more past the age of 100.

In his framing of the symposium, AgeLab Director Joseph Coughlin referenced an influential quote from science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As the symposium illustrated, AI has infused the objects of our everyday lives with seemingly magical qualities: our homes can listen to us and talk back to us. Our cars are able to drive themselves. Machines are now capable of autonomously giving us suggestions, offering us advice, or even providing us with companionship. A network of sensors can predict if someone will suffer an adverse health event before they have felt any symptoms. With these capabilities, AI should play a pivotal role in allowing us to live longer and to maintain better quality of life as we enter old age.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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