October 25, 2014

Google has done it again. This time, it’s acontact lens that can monitor glucose and save people from pricking their fingers to take blood samples. It’s amazing. But this new lens and Google’s overall suite of unbelievable products conceals a stubborn truth: Innovation is hard. And people often don’t get or appreciate an innovation at first impression.

Think about computers. When they were introduced in the 1950s, it was believed that the total market was perhaps 100 computers. Who could ever afford one of those monster machines and why would you need one?

Thirty years later, when the mobile phone debuted, it was thought that the market wouldn’t support more than 100,000. I’ve got a phone at home. Why do I need another?

So earlier this year, it was no surprise to see the first reviews of Google Glass turn skeptical. Why would I ever want to wear a computer a half-inch in front of my eyes? And how do I know people aren’t taking my picture all the time?

But some of us knew that Google was on to something. All the negative reactions were simply feedback for future adjustment.

Innovators know how to adapt. And Google is certainly no exception.

Look at Google Health. Though nary a googler seemed to notice the platform shut down, some thought the closure of Google Health signaled that the world’s most surprising company couldn’t dent the global healthcare conundrum.

Wrong. Google is adapting. Its new Calico initiative is aimed at innovating and creating opportunity out of the irreversible truth of global aging — seeking to keep us healthy and independent beyond a mere 80 years.

And now, what if these Google ideas – Google Glass and Calico — conspired to create a solution for one of the 21st century’s most unaddressed and most stubborn and vexing problems? What if Google Glass became a tool to improve the lives of millions of people who are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease?

These “what ifs” aren’t nearly as far-fetched as they may seem.

Indeed, Google Glass has many of the capabilities needed to become a “memory support system.” That is, Glass could use its amazing technology to help early Alzheimer’s victims who “wanders” by providing them with cues, prompts, and reminders of where they wanted to go and of how to get there. Using Google GPS, Glass could provide specific walking directions to the grocery store. It could become a prosthetic “memory support system” bringing a new sense of independence to the cognitively impaired, encouraging them to venture out into the world.

Google Glass could also work as a facial recognition system, instantly connecting the faces of family and friends with their names and details of their relationship. And Glass could relay real-time images of an Alzheimer’s wearer to a remote screen so loved ones could monitor the location and safety of the user. It could, ultimately, enrich the lives of millions of people globally as a “care assistant” — opening new possibilities for those who are beginning to suffer from Alzheimer’s, and mitigating the care giving anxiety and burden for millions upon millions of family members and friends.

And this is just the beginning. If we’ve learned anything from Google over the past few years, it’s that they’ve got a great ability to reimagine the application of their technologies. The trick, of course, is for us to help Google and others in the Valley to hear from all of us about how their technology innovations can better serve us.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has launched a global ‘fight back’ against Alzheimer’s disease and named a Global Dementia Envoy to explore global innovations to encourage those with dementia to have the confidence to fight isolation and to remain active as long as possible even with impaired memories. This is Google Glass’s opportunity. As Cameron noted, we all need to be a “dementia friend” and create a world that supports the independence of those who suffer from Alzheimer’s. As Google strives to drive innovation into the challenge of living better longer, there’s a real chance to have a global impact.

The Global CEO Initiative on Alzheimer’s Disease is committed to making the world a better place for those with Alzheimer’s and for their caregivers. Can Google Glass be our ‘dementia friend’?


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