Braille is a good idea, so are guide dogs. But that does not mean people are likely to choose to be blind. Yet economists seem to have chosen this very approach when it comes to practising their so-called science. It is a shame because in so doing, they are rendered pretty useless; their theories are about as relevant as an English/Elvish dictionary. The truth is that we are in the midst of a new revolution, one that may yet make the industrial revolution look like a dry rehearsal for what we about to witness. Make sure you are strapped in, and make sure you are au fait with what’s going on.
Maybe one of the interesting things about the great beef burger experiment that hit the headlines this week was the revelation of who was backing it. You probably heard about it. In a laboratory in Maastricht, Dr Mark Post has developed a way of growing beef in a petrie dish, and earlier this week he cooked a beef burger on live TV for critics to eat. It’s doubtful whether the ingredients provided by Dr Post, or indeed his cooking prowess will get an airing on Master Chef any time soon. Many find the whole idea of beef created from stem cell research a tad frightening. Not even Douglas Adams thought of this. In his book ‘The Restaurant at the End of the Universe’ a pig that wanted to be eaten was featured, but pork grown in a lab? Well that seems like an idea that is too farfetched for the man who thought of an infinite improbability spaceship. The point about meat is that it is not very efficient. So we get these beef processing factories, otherwise known as cows, or pigs, that eat lots of grass, drink lots of water – most of which comes out of the back end as waste – take up a lot of space, and then, after a long time interval, they are eaten, in a practise some people think is barbaric. Beef created the Dr Post way is kinder on the environment, uses less resources, is more humane, and it offers another benefit… what is it now, it is quite important. Oh yes that’s right, it may end world hunger.
And that brings us to the really interesting bit. The man who bankrolled Dr Post’s project was none other than a chap called Sergey Brin, a Russian-born immigrant to the USA, who – among other things – co-founded Google.
When it comes to innovation Google is a rather interesting company. These days we have all heard of Google Glasses, and most of us have heard of its self-driving car. Did you know it has been looking at wind turbines that fly above the ground like kites? If it is the case that we are in the midst of a new industrial revolution, from an investment point of view picking the winners is a tad difficult. But some companies – that’s companies with very substantial resources – are good at experimenting, and trying lots of ideas. Google and IBM are good examples. They may well be among the big winners from this revolution. Others, such as some of the giant pharmaceuticals, are like venture capital firms that specialise in an industry and in addition to money can offer distribution and marketing expertise. They are good firms to watch too.
Returning to recent innovations, there is also talk of a new ultra-thin integrated circuit, which may evolve to become a little bit like robotic skin that can monitor your health? This product was developed by Martin Kaltenbrunner at the University of Tokyo. It is perhaps the most interesting idea to emerge so far in this new brave world of wearable devices.
Then there is the world of medicine, and pharmaceuticals. Take, as an example, a company called Immunocore, which may have developed a cure for cancer. See: Exclusive: Cancer - A cure just got closer thanks to a tiny British company - and the result could change lives of millions
Immunocore, by the way, according to the ‘Independent’ article has attracted the attention of Genentech in California, which is owned by the Swiss giant Roche and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline.
And finally, or finally for today, there is Hyperloop. We don’t know much about this product yet, other than it is an idea developed by Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, who says it will be able to transport people at 700 miles per hour, cannot crash, is immune to bad weather, and is self-powered, via the aid of solar energy – oh and, by the way, it is supposed to be much cheaper than other forms of transport. Mr Musk has this idea for Hyperloop to be able to transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 30 minutes. See: How does Elon Musk’s SF-to-LA-in-30-minutes Hyperloop work?
Who knows whether any of the products described here have traction, and indeed for that matter whether Hyperloop uses traction as the means of transporting people?
But they illustrate a point. There are some incredibly interesting radical ideas afoot at the moment.
Computers and the Internet must surely lie behind the new revolution. The latest generation of computers are now so fast they have made it possible to develop ideas in a way that was once impossible. The Internet enables the flow of ideas, and cross fertilisation as brains across the world communicate and share.
But economists still don’t get it. Some still deny that recent innovations have created wreath, and implicitly they are cynical about the next batch – that is assuming they know there is a next batch.
They make a catastrophic error.
Innovation can create wealth, and end poverty; it can lead to mass unemployment and inequality. How we ensure that innovations benefit all, is the big challenge of the 21st century.
Let’s finish by quoting Douglas Adams and drawing a parallel with economists.
“The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy defines the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as 'a bunch of mindless jerks who'll be first against the wall when the revolution comes', with a footnote to the effect that the editors would welcome applications from anyone interested in taking over the post of robotics correspondent.”
“Curiously enough,” continued Adams in his book ‘The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy’, “an edition of the Encyclopaedia Galactica that had the good fortune to fall through a time warp from a thousand years in the future defined the marketing division of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation as 'a bunch of mindless jerks who were the first against the wall when the revolution came'.”
Do you think economists will be the first against the wall come the new industrial revolution? Or will it be just some of them?
© Investment & Business News 2013