Topic: Ageist Tech, Co-Design, and Innovation Dead-Ends: Is Empathy Really Doing What it Says On the Tin?

Day: Thursday 22 October 2020

Time: 10:30am – 11:00am AEDT


As a society, we hold empathy up as a universal good. The age services sector is no exception to this. In fact, ask most policy-makers, sector leaders, academics, and advocates, and they’ll tell you that the problem with empathy is that we need much more of it.

This presentation proposes that empathy is value-neutral, and if used wrongly (or manipulatively), can lead to irrational thinking and bad judgement. Framed within this context, our co-designed innovations, policies, and programs end up undermining the very people we seek to care for.

Drawing on social psychology, technology, and policy examples, we’ll show how empathy can lead to perverse, and at times, cruel outcomes. Ironically, the path to being more compassionate may lie in us controlling our compulsion to be empathetic.


Merlin heads up LASA’s innovAGEING network—Australia’s national innovation network for the age services sector—which the Australian Financial Review recognised last year in its top 50 most innovative companies in Australia and New Zealand list, and the 5th most innovative in the Government, Education, and Not-for-Profit category.

Merlin has an eclectic background, including: Executive Director at Community Services #1, Executive Director at the ACT Property Council, Policy Strategy Director in the ACT Legislative Assembly, and has held innovation and commercialisation advisory roles with both start-ups and institutions.

He has completed innovation studies at Stanford University, and artificial intelligence at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Committed to sharing his experience with others, he actively volunteers his time mentoring young entrepreneurs, and has taught innovation and entrepreneurship, and business development strategy at the Australian National University.