Reading allows for time travel. Right now, I’m reading a contextual biography of Abraham Lincoln — focusing on Lincoln’s cabinet and allies as well as the famous civil-war-era US president. Then, through a private Facebook group, I received an invitation to download an article published by futurist Thomas Frey, where he explores innovations that could create trillionaires — a wealth level that requires mind-boggling imagination.
The historical perspective reminds us of the way thing were; when there was slavery, death was common from (now easily treated) infectious diseases; when political communication was through oratory and written letters. The futurist perspective, of course, takes us into the “what might be” world. While we can hopefully accurately explore history, future perspectives are at best an informed guessing game.
Still, here are Frey’s 19 possible future industries. I think you can imagine some of the challenges and opportunities architects, engineers and construction contractors will experience in adapting to these industries:
1.) Cryptocurrency – The first global currency will likely be a cryptocurrency. Since they operate outside of the realm of highly regulated, nation-based economies, cryptocurrencies will have the ability to fill the gaping needs left unanswered by today financial systems. To put this into perspective, 2.5 billion adults, just over half of the world’s adult population, do not have bank accounts, nor do they use any formal financial services to save or borrow. The opportunity here is huge.
2.) Asteroid Mining – When the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander made it to the surface of Comet 67P, there was a sudden renewed interest in going to space. However, the most valuable near-term space industry will likely stem from extracting resources found in near earth asteroids. While proving that both water and oxygen can be manufactured in space will be the first order of business, our growing need for platinum based metals could result in entire asteroids being dragged back to earth, each valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, shortly thereafter.
3.) Instant Learning – Today’s learning processes occupy entirely too much of the human lifespan. With Nicolas Negroponte’s prediction that ingested learning (eating a pill and knowing French) is right around the corner, and a host of other technologies showing promise, the concept of “instant learning” is only one breakthrough away from becoming a trillion dollar industry.
4.) Internet of Things – On the surface, the Internet of Things, where devices talk to other devices may not seem like a good candidate for becoming a trillion dollar industry, but consider having devices that improve your health, energy, stamina, and thinking ability by 100% or more. Or perhaps having devices that can communicate with plants and animals. How much will those capabilities be worth in future dollars?
5.) Cure for Human Aging – If every person had the option of paying $10 a day to make aging stop and live forever, how many would choose that option? A billion people paying $10 a day would amount to $3.65 trillion a year in revenue. You may want to invest because this may be one of the few industries capable of providing you with the solid income you’ll need for the next 1,000 years, if not longer.
6.) Flying Drone Services – We are currently just scratching the surface of all the services that drones can provide. But consider the notion of having solar power drones that fly at extreme altitudes of 80,000 feet or higher, above weather patterns, and never have to come back down. Well maybe every 5 years for service and repair. Google and Facebook both bought companies like this. Now consider using these drones to provide a better grade of telecom services all over the world.
7.) Controlling the Weather – Is controlled weather a good thing or a bad thing? Well, we know hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and major hailstorms can be very destructive, so there are already major costs associated with our current weather systems. So consider how much it would be worth to farmers to have extra rain, a guarantee of no hail, favorable temperatures and good sunshine? How much is it worth to homeowners to not have to water their lawns, or never have wind or hail that damages their roofs? How about guaranteed wind above 300’ altitude for all wind farms?
8.) Instant Sleep – Similar in some respects to anti-aging technology when you ask the question, “how many people would be willing to pay $10 to use an ‘instant sleep’ device to add an extra 8 hours of productive time to their day?” $10 may indeed be too cheap for this service, so maybe $100. Would 100 million people a day be willing to pay $100 to avoid sleep? There are many combinations of these numbers that could amount to $3.65 trillion a year in revenue if not more.
9.) Controlling Gravity – It’s hard to imagine a technology that will be more disruptive than gaining control over gravity. At this point though, we still struggle to understand what it is, why it exists, and how it works. So in some respects, it could be the least likely of all on this list. At the same time, as with most of these, we are but one key breakthrough away from this becoming the most valuable of all industries.
10.) Ultra High Speed Transportation – Traveling faster, more efficient, and for less money is normally a recipe for a massively disruptive technology, leading to a less valuable industry. Yet, tube transportation, as proposed by Elon Musk and Daryl Oster would have just the opposite effect. When global transportation becomes easier and cheaper, people will travel more – much more. And with a more efficient system, the margins will be far greater.
11.) Controlling Time – When the topic of controlling time is brought up, most people instantly start thinking about time travel. The next conclusion, naturally, is those who can jump across time will never be around, always choosing to experience some new era. But controlling time could also mean the short-term manipulation of time. Knowing something 10 minutes before the rest of the world could be worth billions, maybe even trillions.
12.) Instant Disassembling of Matter – When it comes to working with raw materials, we are very limited in the number of tools we can use to extract the actual substance we want. Digging, crushing, grinding, pulverizing, and blowing things up are all on the material science short list for getting to the core material inside. But consider a process where large boulders can be instantly disassembled into a pile of molecules, simply by breaking all the molecular bonds. How much would that be worth?
13.) Human Cloning or 3D Printed Bodies – Our bodies wear out. If we could somehow transfer who we are into a younger, stronger, better looking version of ourselves, how many people would jump at that opportunity? For this to enter into the “business of trillionaires,” the process for growing or 3D printing replacement bodies would need to rapidly scale up to the range of producing a million replacement bodies a day. Is that even possible?
14.) Personal Swarms of Swarmbots – Even though fully functional gnat-sized flying bots are still a few generations from providing value, the versatility and utility of having a personal swarm of swarmbots will some day be off the charts cool. The same swarm that dries us after a shower, applies makeup, and fixes our hair, will assemble themselves as our clothing, our body armor, and function as our personal tech. Not only will this exoskeleton formed from particle-sized drones amplify our strength, the swarm will also enable us to fly from place to place.
15.) Robotic Services – Robots are coming. They may not look like “Rosie” on the Jetsons or C3PO from Star Wars, but robots are destined to remove the “routine” from routine living. The race to find the killer app for robots and robotic services, something equivalent to social media for the Internet, is destined to become the ultimate quest of bot startups everywhere in the very near future.
16.) 3D Telepresence Avatars – How many times have you heard someone say they need to clone themselves? 3D telepresence avatars are the digital equivalent of cloning where life-size representations of ourselves can interact with others in the same fashion as being there in person. These avatars could attend meetings, file reports, engage in water cooler chitchat, attend little league games, and even keep your boss busy, all the while, extending your overall capabilities and earning potential several fold.
17.) Artificial Intelligence – Even though AI has quickly emerged as the poster child of future technology gone wrong, artificial intelligence is destined to become a game-changer on almost every level. It’s difficult to imagine any industry that couldn’t somehow be improved, and improved exponentially, with the addition of narrow AI applications.
18.) Energy Storage – We gotten to the point of being relatively good at generating power, but when it comes to storing power from one day to the next, we find ourselves still in the Neanderthal stages of development. Anyone who finds a super efficient way of storing power will quickly become the master of the energy universe.
Fantasies, maybe. But who would have dreamed just a couple of decades ago about the internet, and the rise of business giants Apple, Facebook and Google?