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How Talking to Devices Will Transform Life After 65

By Laurie Orlov

Something magical is happening in technology today that will transform life for everyone over 65, including loved ones needing care.



Something magical is happening in technology today that will transform life for everyone over 65, including loved ones needing care. For the first time beyond the world of science fiction, we can effectively talk to our devices — and they’ll listen and respond. This new way of interacting with technology is a major transformation for how we’ll use devices from this day forward, especially for older adults.

If you’re like me, you’ll remember the days when your parents experienced a power issue at home and asked you to come over and reset the VCR clock so it wouldn’t blink “12:00.” You wondered if someday you’d reach the point where you would also stop keeping up with technology and devices.

Thanks to “voice-first” technology and devices, that will not be our future. This article explains what’s here now, what’s coming, and how it will significantly change life for those over the age of 65.


Devices That Hear and Understand

Apple launched the voice assistant Siri in the iPhone 4S in 2011. The first Alexa device was introduced in 2014. Google Assistant debuted in 2016. The development of voice-first technology and devices may have started slowly (as Siri often says, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you with that”), but the current generation can listen and do a remarkable — and growing — list of tasks.

Devices Controlled by Google Assistant

Source: 39 million Americans now own a smart speaker, report claims, TechCrunch, 1/12/18

Some examples:

  • Phone and text actions, such as "Call Sarah," "Read my new messages," "Set the timer for 10 minutes," and "Send email to mom"
  • Check basic information, including "What's the weather like today?" and "How many dollars are in a euro?"
  • Schedule events and reminders, including "Schedule a meeting" and "Remind me to..."
  • Perform multi-step routines like reading news headlines, opening your shades, and updating the weather all triggered by saying, “Good morning!” or “I’m home.”
  • Answer general knowledge questions, like “when does Daylight Savings time end?”, “Who is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?” and “Who wrote Moby Dick?”
  • Navigation, including "What's traffic like on the way home?" and "Find driving directions to..."
  • Entertainment, such as "What basketball games are on today?," "What are some movies playing near me?," and "What's the synopsis of...?"

We’re not at perfect yet, like the way Captain Kirk or Mr. Spock could simply said “Computer” and it would follow their every command. Then again, this is a huge step beyond having to tap, pinch, swipe, zoom.

Can You See (and Hear) What’s Coming?

What makes this technology and these devices so transformative is that like Kirk and Spock, soon you will no longer have to learn how to use the latest device or gadget, with its confusing settings, strange apps, different menus, and unnatural functions. Your devices will be automatically upgraded to the latest version without the fear of having to learn something new. Enhancements of the software will occur in the background, in the cloud. All you have to do is talk. 

For those of us growing older (which at last check was all of us), that means we will never, ever again be left behind by technology. There’s not an equivalent end point of the flashing “12:00” on a VCR for us. That changes everything.

The future of voice-first technology will arrive sooner than you think. Amazon alone has 12,000 engineers working on voice innovations. The least expensive home-based device is under $30 and only requires a wi-fi connection. A Google Assistant device, for example, can also control the lights, temperature, and talk to a security camera.


Should we worry about technology that is always listening?

One concern about voice-first technology is that it’s paying attention to you even when you’re not using it. Voice technology bloopers and bugs are well publicized — misunderstanding what we said, incorrect directions, accidental purchases, or notifying the wrong person. We are understandably anxious about privacy.

However, voice-first devices have settings that allow us some control over their role in our lives. We can delete previous conversations, tell a device to stop listening, or just turn off the microphone.


Transforming Life After 65

A top goal of most older adults is maintaining control and independence as they age. Voice-first technology and devices will enable more people to live life on their terms than ever before.

  • Imagine your faraway 85-year-old mother in assisted living waking up and saying, “Hey Google, good morning,” and the lights brighten and the blinds open. When she needs help using the bathroom, she says, “Hey Google, bathroom,” and those lights turn on, and an indicator light outside of her door notifies that staff that she needs their assistance. “Hey Google, goodnight” reverses the sequence. For those in caregiving roles, such a simple-to-use tool could be a life saver.
  • Or what if your parents live in another part of town and use the Amazon Echo Show, with video capabilities? Without even disturbing them, you can “drop in” on them to see how they are doing, and they can reach you be simply saying, “Alexa, drop in on my son.” No phone or video call required. Just say “drop in on _______” and their device alerts them that you want to connect with them.

Across the country senior housing developments are investing time and money into these voice-first devices and technologies as ways to help older adults in their facilities. I think ultimately, the evolution of these devices will help keep older adults in their homes much, much longer.

And that’s reason enough to start adapting and using this remarkable new tool for all of us.


Next Steps: How Can You Benefit from the Voice-First Revolution? 

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to get started. Here are some easy first steps:

  1. Download the Google Assistant app to your smartphone. Tap and ask a question.
  2. Buy the Amazon Dot or a Google Home Mini device (less than $30).
  3. Read the startup instructions on the internet (only requires a wi-fi connection).
  4. Give it a try. Just ask the device, “What can I do?”
  5. Look online for updated tasks and capabilities. Most device makers routinely post new lists.

Now, setting up the device to interact and control other wi-fi enabled devices in your home or office (lights, security camera, blinds) takes a little time and knowledge. There are step-by-step instructions and YouTube videos that make it manageable.

Laurie Orlov
Laurie is a tech industry veteran, writer, speaker, and founder of Aging in Place Technology Watch. She conducts market research, follows trends, and writes reports about technologies and services that enable boomers and seniors to remain longer in their home of choice.

Devices Controlled by Google Assistant

plug Outdoor lights
Speakers Portable stereo speakers
door lock Electronic door locks
kitchen appliaces Slow cookers and other kitchen appliances
light bulb Smart light bulbs in any fixture in your house
TV Your TV, sound system, and connected devices
thermostat Thermostat
blinds Blinds
doorbell Doorbell with security camera
vacuum Self-operating vacuum
garage Garage door

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author, who is not affiliated with Hartford Funds. The information contained herein should not be construed as investment advice or a recommendation of any product or service nor should it be relied upon to, replace the advice of an investor's own professional legal, tax and financial advisors. 

Hartford Mutual Funds may or may not be invested in the companies referenced in this presentation. No particular endorsement or recommendation of any product or service is being made.