At last week’s UCLA Technology & Aging Conference, representatives from Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Toyota and other big-name firms discussed how technology is reshaping lifestyles for older individuals. However, important policy implications directly connected to these new tools went unspoken.

RFID (radio frequency identification) tags that can monitor the status of older individuals, face-recognition video systems that allow two-way video calls when someone simply enters the room, and robot-assisted remote telesurgery are just a few of the amazing systems described at the conference.

Eric Dishman, Intel’s director of product research and innovation, discussed his company’s goal of getting “rid of the nursing home” and putting “technologies in people’s homes.” Dishman is working from a distributed computing point of view, where caregiver expertise can arrive across time, and medical technology can be distributed from outdated institutions to an individual’s most frequented location.

Technology like RFID tags connected with wireless networks can help create an “always on” health monitoring system, thereby transitioning society away from a “mainframe” medical model and redirecting it toward a smaller, more personalized, PC-type model. This is a great idea, yet the unspoken truth is that this type of communication requires healthy, innovative networks. That raises a key question about Net neutrality, an issue spun and respun by many.

Essentially, it involves a fight over whether network operators, such as Verizon or Comcast, are allowed to continue to set the price for their services and prioritize information that rides on their pipes.

History shows that government regulatory and price controls have a negative effect on innovation, and applying them to the Internet — as Net neutrality advocates want to do — would be disastrous for rolling out newer, faster and more efficient network services. This makes one wonder if Intel’s research and innovation department ever talks with its lobbying arm, because in 2006 the company foolishly jumped on the Net neutrality bandwagon.


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