In The Netherlands, as in many similar countries, people are discussing the future ‘gray-haired society’, a society where, compared with the current demographic structure, an increasingly large proportion of the population will be over 65. This is due to both to increased life expectancy and to the decreasing number of children being born. As older people, generally speaking, require considerably more (and more expensive) healthcare than younger people it is likely that, without special measures, this will lead to a serious economic problem. There will be fewer younger people available to pay a continuously increasing bill.
Many people see technology as one of the key solutions to this problem. Currently, it is technologically possible to provide people with a high quality of life in their own environment. Monitoring, medication or even medical intervention can be provided via the internet by remote operators. Perhaps, in the future, the latter will be replaced by autonomous systems.
From a quality and reliability (QR) perspective, this raises a considerable number of challenges. In the current situation, where human lives directly depend on technology, services are provided, generally speaking, in the context of well-controlled environments with systems operated by professionals. If malfunction and error should occur, intervention and/or correction can be provided directly by skilled specialists. In addition, the systems have to meet rigorous FDA and similar demands before they can be used in practice. In cases where these systems operate remotely, or even to a certain degree autonomously, the QR requirements are probably even tougher. On the other hand, such systems differ from those with similarly high QR demands, such as nuclear or (petro-)chemical systems since they are, in order to be cost efficient, based on technology similar to that used in current consumer electronics. They also have to rely on commercial multi-party infrastructures, such as the internet.
The very high degree of innovation and dynamics in this environment makes prediction about QR particularly difficult. The models are simply not available. We need to establish whether the currently available QR analysis tools can, with such high demand and systems of this level of complexity, do the job. In QREI we see many papers presenting analyses of the current complex systems but not, as yet, of systems able to meet challenges such as those described above. If we want these systems to be operational by the time we retire it would be a useful challenge for the readers of the journal to start thinking about the appropriate QR tools right now.