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Innovation with Experience

From exponential technology to tiny houses, using wisdom to create a better future

Technology continues to fuel a new age of innovation on many fronts, and the forward-thinking scientists, executives and trailblazers we photographed only see expanding transformation for those 50 and up.


Take futurist Ray Kurzweil, 71, photographed above by Gregory Halpern. As a director of engineering at Google and arguably the foremost futurist in Silicon Valley, Kurzweil leads a research team that collectively anticipates how technology can better help us think, learn and live. He also co-founded Singularity University in Silicon Valley, where future leaders study advancements in machine intelligence, among other subjects. One example of AI (artificial intelligence) is the adorable little brainiac named Pepper (pictured above), capable of around 90,000 cheerful interactions with humans.


Curtis Rogers, left, CEO of GEDmatch, runs the DNA database from Lake Worth, Florida. —Carl De Keyzer/Magnum; Bruce Linton, cofounder and co-CEO of Canopy Growth, oversees the largest cannabis company in the world. —Eli Reed/Magnum

Innovation isn’t always about the new, however. It can be about fresh and creative thinking with existing capabilities, using modern technology, for example, in groundbreaking ways. That’s something that retired octogenarian Curtis Rogers, creator of one of the world's largest DNA databases, knows firsthand. Rogers initially created the GEDmatch database as a way to connect with relatives, but as the site grew, so did its potential. Law enforcement officials have now turned to it to crack cold cases. After decades of dead ends, California authorities used GEDmatch to identify and catch the Golden State Killer.


Ottawa entrepreneur Bruce Linton took advantage of new Canadian rules that encouraged commercial marijuana cultivation in 2013, to cofound his company Tweed. By 2014, as other businesses scrambled to get an edge in the highly competitive industry, Tweed became the first cannabis company in North America to publicly trade on a stock exchange. The comapny was renamed Canopy Growth in 2015, with Tweed as a subsidiary. Canopy has brought innovative new products, such as cannabis softgels, to the market while keeping pricing affordable for medical marijuana users.

Immunologist James Allison, above back row, takes a selfie next to a photo of himself. —Peter van Agtmael/Magnum

For James Allison, innovation starts small — cell-sized, to be exact. Allison has always been fascinated by the blood’s disease-fighting T cells, and last year the Ph.D. scientist’s groundbreaking research into the cells’ function earned him a Nobel Prize. The work has also led to the development of a new class of immunotherapy drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors, which are helping some last-stage-cancer patients to survive for years longer. Allison offers his young colleagues the same advice that has guided him: “Find something you’re interested in. Follow your heart.”

Bill Thomas (right) and his son Caleb (left) in the factory where Minka homes are manufactured —Larry Towell/Magnum

Following his heart meant pursuing a new calling for physician Bill Thomas, 59. After spending years trying to change the nursing home industry, the geriatrician turned homebuilder now advocates for tiny houses as an alternative to nursing homes for older people. His project, called Minka after the Japanese word for “house of the people,” aims to manufacture small, disability- and eco-friendly dwellings where older people can live comfortably as they age. A 330-square-foot prototype is now situated on Cayuga Lake in upstate New York, and a pilot program to build an intergenerational tiny house community is in the works in Indiana.

Zavier Leslie Cabarga inside a 1953 camper, which he is remodeling for a client. —Larry Towell/Magnum

Around the country, the tiny house movement is catching on in a big way. In Ojai, California, illustrator and designer Zavier Leslie Cabarga has found a second career as a fine carpenter and cabinetmaker. Among his latest projects? His own tiny house, hand-crafted from the ground up.