The future of retirement: blurring boundaries, helpful houses, robot pets, hypersonic travel


An article on the future of retirement in the most recent Good Weekend magazine, Rethinking the future, drew extensively on an interview with me. Below are some excerpts from the article.

Finite players play within boundaries; infinite players play with boundaries,” wrote James Carse in his extraordinary 1986 book, Finite and Infinite Games – his “games” being a metaphor for any human engagement that has a competitive or cooperative element. The first group of players observes boundaries to determine who’s lost or won, he argues; the second alters them in response to changing circumstances and, in so doing, creates a perpetually evolving game – and, ultimately, a more elegant existence.

Carse might have been describing retirement as it will look in the middle years of the 21st century. “Retirement is a boundary, a definition, a line,” says futurist and bestselling author Ross Dawson. “We’re moving towards a world where this boundary is blurring more and more, bringing benefits to organisations and the individual.”

Dawson says organisations’ attitudes towards this ageing workforce will change. “There will be a demand – and new respect – for its knowledge and experience,” he says.

He cites the example of the Indianapolis-headquartered initiative YourEncore, developed by Procter & Gamble and pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly, which connects retirees with corporations that need their skills. Grey-haired alumni return to the workplace as part-time consultants supporting the contributions of less seasoned staff in a sort of intellectual passing of the baton. Elsewhere, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab is working with government and businesses to develop solutions around harnessing the power of a mature workforce.

Technology will enable us to live independently for longer. “We will absolutely have domestic robots, ones capable of performing quite complex tasks – making the bed, for example, or stacking and unloading the dishwasher,” Dawson says. “Our home environment will be monitoring us constantly. We’ll cease losing our reading glasses because our house will be able to tell us exactly where we last put them down. We’ll sit down in chairs that are able to record an incredible amount of data about our physical state and, if need be, send alerts to medical staff.”

Prepare also, he says, for the rise of the robotic pet, with research already demonstrating that the elderly person who pats and strokes a responsive mechanical canine derives the same health benefits as the retiree who shares her home with a live, sentient and more demanding animal.

The difficulty of getting from A to B will dissolve with the widespread adoption of driverless cars, while the long-haul jetliner may be superseded by the reusable, 100-person spacecraft. Sydney to London in just a couple of hours? “The timeline for this is uncertain as yet,” Dawson says, “but interspace travel is something investment bank UBS has already earmarked as a possibly significant market.”