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Guest Thinkers

Prognostic Aging: Envisioning a Systems Approach to Well-Being Across the Lifespan

Prognostics is a field within engineering to predict when a system or a component within that system will no longer function as designed or is likely to fail. For example, when is a car transmission likely to need maintenance or malfunction? See herean example of how NASA applies prognostic engineering to space systems. Can we envision a prognostics engineering approach to human aging and well-being? 

Generally, medical science does have insights on ‘when’ we are more vulnerable to one condition or another, when overall decline in physical reserve takes place, and at what rate. But, these declines are not necessarily mandated by some ‘use by’ or ‘expiration’ date. If available, affordable, and accessible — good nutrition, exercise, regular medical care, clean water and sanitation, etc., can improve overall well-being and longevity. 

Technology is now offering more than treatment of conditions and improvements in daily living, it is also enabling services that could be aligned as a system to ensure ‘optimal performance’ for a lifetime. But what might that mean? Does the private cost of illness to individuals and families as well as the public cost of healthcare provide the policy case for engineering systems of care that begin with genetic testing at birth, technology monitoring throughout a lifetime combined with financial incentives/disincentives in both everyday life and the workplace to ensure optimal behaviors and outcomes? Does the private benefit of longevity require a new public social contract around health and well-being? 

In this video produced by my colleagues in the MIT Systems Design & Management Program I introduce the concept of prognostic engineering, ask how it might be applied to individuals, and consider some of the possible technical, social and policy questions.



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