Longevity International’s Tina Woods discusses what we can learn from the pandemic and how data can help us do better in future.
Longevity is about much more than the development anti-aging therapies – it spans sectors from industry and academia to financial services and government. Tina Woods has a uniquely broad view of Longevity and the key areas that come together to influence it. Woods is CEO and co-founder of Longevity International, a social enterprise bringing together stakeholders from all areas to provide a unified voice and coordinated action on Longevity. The organisation also runs the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity in the UK.
Longevity.Technology: A speaker at Wednesday’s AI & Longevity session at the Longevity 2020 online conference, Woods was just about to publish her new book ‘Live Longer with AI’ – when coronavirus struck.
“We took the decision to delay publication – it didn’t seem quite right to come out with a book about living longer at this time,” she says. “It’s probably going to be September now – hopefully when people are going to be more in the mood to read books about this topic.”
While Woods doesn’t necessarily expect the pandemic to be over by then, she expects that society will have had a chance to reflect on the experience of the crisis and how it might affect everything in future.
“I hope, if nothing else, that one of the legacies coming out of this is an understanding of how connected our health is to our wealth, and how precious it is …”
“I hope, if nothing else, that one of the legacies coming out of this is an understanding of how connected our health is to our wealth, and how precious it is,” she says. “The longer term impacts, the mental health issues, the financial worries and stresses that will have an impact on our health are going to be some of the long term consequences.”
But, far from being pessimistic, Woods feels that COVID-19 is already helping us learn valuable lessons.
“It’s quite extraordinary – the rulebook, frankly, has been rewritten in terms of how we’ve had to respond to this crisis,” she says. “Just look at the state intervention that we’re seeing with the financial bailouts, and the extraordinary mobilisation that we’ve seen with individuals, citizens, communities and the volunteering. And obviously Innovate UK and all the funds that have been released and calls for proposals – there’s been an incredible response from the start-up community to that.”
“With the virtual care consultations that have been facilitated and supported and under NHSX, we’ve seen peoples’ resistance to using digital technology practically evaporate.”
Woods is particularly encouraged by rapid adoption of technology that has occurred as a result of the pandemic.
“With the virtual care consultations that have been facilitated and supported and under NHSX, we’ve seen peoples’ resistance to using digital technology practically evaporate,” she says. “We still have a problem with more vulnerable communities, who may not be online, but we’ve had an extraordinary change in behaviour. So I think there are some really interesting things that will emerge from this epidemic.”
Data is already at the heart of the COVID-19 discussion, from what is (and isn’t being) tracked and reported by governments to health inequality and which demographics are being worst affected by the virus.
“I think this will be what the government is going to have to look at really seriously,” says Woods. “And this is where some of the work that I’ve been doing all last year will come even more into it.”
Woods is referring to the development of the national strategy launched in February by the APPG for Longevity, a large part of which focuses on health inequalities and how the gap can be closed to ensure everyone can benefit and not just the few.
“People are already talking about concepts like longevity escape velocity and immortality, and how we’re going to be able to cure aging forever, and all this mind blowing stuff, but it is completely disconnected with the reality that we’re seeing.”
“People are already talking about concepts like longevity escape velocity and immortality, and how we’re going to be able to cure aging forever, and all this mind blowing stuff, but it is completely disconnected with the reality that we’re seeing,” she says. “What we’re seeing on the ground is that the social divides and income divides are are potentially growing rather than getting smaller, certainly in the developed world. So, I think once we come out of this, we need to take a really hard look, and make sure that access to all this amazing technology is reaching the masses.”
Woods describes the need for a new “social contract” and the need to establish what that should look like:
“What is our responsibility as stakeholders in society, whether as a citizen, business leader, scientist or politician?” she asks. “And how are we going to measure the success of society? This is some of the work that we’re going to be doing, so the enduring legacy from COVID could be a more holistic view about what health means, why it matters so much, and how that should be factored into measuring success as a nation.”
Of course, enabling all of this is a huge challenge, and Woods points to the need for effective use of data and AI as being key to making it happen.
“We need to take a much wider view of the data ecosystem, so when we talk about health data, the data that matters most is not about when we’re sick, it’s actually about the data when we’re well.”
“We need to take a much wider view of the data ecosystem, so when we talk about health data, the data that matters most is not about when we’re sick, it’s actually about the data when we’re well,” she says, pointing out that some of the world’s biggest companies like Google and Apple have already been collecting some of this data for years.
“I think there are some really interesting alternative views on what this data led economy will look like,” she says. “At the moment we’ve got China galloping ahead on AI and they’re absolutely leading the world in all this. Obviously, they’ve got a very different political system, but it is absolutely gobsmacking and fascinating what they’re doing out there. And there’s a lot that we can learn.”
“And, of course, we’ve got this other model, the big tech model, where data equals driving up profits and making them more powerful than governments,” adds Woods. “So data is a really interesting area that we should be looking at, especially post-COVID, and especially when we’re looking at a new social contract for the Western world, where we’re quite literally seeing before our eyes that capitalism isn’t necessarily working for all people. That’s going to come back to bite us.”
Image courtesy of Tina Woods