Google Gets into the Business of Aging

Google Gets into the Business of Aging

Printer-friendly version
a a
Type Size: Small

It’s no surprise that Google has seen the huge market opportunity in its new venture to “tackle health and aging.”   

On Wednesday the company said it will set up a new venture called Calico, headed by Apple and Genentech Chairman Art Levinson, which will develop technologies to tackle health issues related to aging, such as mental and physical agility. (The new company will be run separately from Google.)  


The company surely noticed that population aging is a global phenomenon: By 2020, there will be a billion of us over 60, and by mid-century, that number will explode to two billion.

If companies in industries from fashion and travel to technology and pharmaceuticals can get in the game, why not Google? Recognizing where markets grow is good business and great strategy.   

Leveraging the genius in big data to solve the health challenges of Alzheimer’s, cancer, CVD and diabetes is exactly what the world needs. It’s true not just to give us healthier lives as we age, but for any shred of hope that we can sustain serious economic growth in a time when there are more of us over age 60 than under 14. 

History has never experienced such a demographic shift, and no government is doing very well by continuing to apply the 19th century version of pension and health benefits. Not here in America – certainly not in Europe or Japan, and this is now the big one for China, too.

But what the Google team may not realize is that they have moved into a strategy that’s as important for the youth market they serve as the baby boomers their health goals seem to be intended to help. This aging phenomenon is more about the transformation in global demographics – from young to old – which has as much consequence for how today’s 22-year-olds live as today’s boomers age.

As Sarah Harper said in her Oxford London lecture last year, a young girl born in the mid-90s is likely to live to see three centuries: born in the 20th, live throughout the 21st and die in the 22nd.  While this is true in New York, London or Tokyo, it is rapidly becoming true in Beijing, Istanbul and Sao Paolo as well. 

The strategic question for Google is not only how the company can use its data and analytics to help solve challenges for age-related diseases – but how it can use these tools for the market changes that are about a profoundly new demographic world, in which health is only one part of the huge culture and social changes underway.

Executive director of the Global Coalition on Aging, Michael W. Hodin, Ph.D., is also managing partner at High Lantern Group and a fellow at Oxford University's Harris Manchester College.