Forbes Misses the Mark, The Tech Sector Delivers Life Changing Gains

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You can stop worrying about the financial crisis.

I have a new way to help Washington make ends meet. If we were smart, we would just close the patent office.

And why not?

After all, according to some folks, all of the great inventions have already come and gone.
So, if you thought we were still on the cusp of miraculous breakthroughs in technology that are going to change the world, think again.

Despite what you may have been reading, the technology sector is actually positively dull, folks.

In fact, using innovation to cure cancer, solve world hunger, and help humans live past the age of 100 with genius-level IQs is just plain boring. Ho-hum really.

I know this because I read all about in Forbes magazine. So it must be true… right?

Of course, I hope you'll pardon the stinging sarcasm…

But in a recent column, Rich Karlgaard of Forbes actually questioned whether the future of technology would be as bright as the past.

To be fair, Karlgaard's argument refers to a new book on the subject by a prominent college professor who claims technological progress is nowhere near where it used to be.

Or as Karlgaard argues, "doesn't quite stir the soul."

Miracle Breakthroughs

Maybe he should have talked to Barbara Campbell.

Twenty years ago, the New Yorker went blind while still in her 30s

Today, she can at least see rough shapes and enough light to make out the building she calls home. It's all courtesy of the electrodes surgeons implanted in her eyes.

They communicate wirelessly with a pair of sunglasses that sport a tiny video camera.

The LA-based developer of these "bionic eyes," Second Sight Medical Products, won approval to sell its system in Europe last year. In 2012, the privately held company hopes to finally win U.S. approval for its miraculous technology.

But whether the company goes global or not is beside the point. I predict that in as little as 20 years, human blindness will largely be a thing of the past.

And then there's the case of Matt Nagle, a Massachusetts man whose life took a turn for the worse after being paralyzed from the neck down.

To his delight, he has learned to surf the web, send emails, make a robot move its hand and play video games – all with the power of his mind.

The former star athlete became one of the first patients ever to use a groundbreaking computer interface that worked with his brain. And while Matt has since passed away, his legacy lives on as a major scientific breakthrough.

It hasn't cured paralysis but I predict that will happen in the near future with a combination of surgery and implants.

And this year, we will take another major step forward by helping wheelchair-bound patients gain new levels of independence. A startup in Berkeley, CA, called Ekso Bionics will begin selling what amounts to a robotic walking suit.

Leaving the Past in the Dust

That leads us to an obvious question…

Twenty years from now will it "stir the soul" more to watch reruns of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon or see a thousand paraplegics running the Boston Marathon?

I know where my money is.

Along the way, the market will produce hundreds of ways to invest and profit from the exciting technologies that will help take the human race to a whole new level.

In the meantime, modern science is already moving so fast we can turn tragedies into triumphs.
For instance, take the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advanced body armor has saved literally thousands of lives.

What's more, many of the survivors that were left with broken bodies have benefited from a new generation of prosthetic devices that work wonders.

In fact, I recently watched a Fox News special report in which former President George W. Bush went mountain biking with a group of battered and disabled veterans. I'm in reasonably good shape but those guys with artificial limbs would have left me in the dust.

The Era of Radical Change: Moving Ahead at Warp Speed

Of course, by now I hope you'll agree that innovation is all around us and is moving at incredible speeds.

So, it troubles me to see Forbes touting the book The Great Stagnation by George Mason University professor Tyler Cowen. And while I must admit I haven't read the book I disagree with the notion that high tech has hit a plateau.

The truth is we've entered the Era of Radical Change, a period of rapid innovation that will usher in tidal wave of breakthroughs.

It is moving so fast and in so many fields at once that it will soon take a super computer to keep track of it all.

However, I will grant Forbes and Cowen this much: the nature of change has undergone a huge shift.

In the past, we were governed by dominant themes. Fire… the wheel… the printing press.
Then came the high water marks of the industrial age with the auto, mass production, air travel, and the moon shot.

Enter the information age. Today, because of rapid computer advancements, interconnected fields are moving us forward faster than most of us can understand.

From genetically modified crops to human genomics to artificial intelligence, every day brings an important new announcement.

Just this month, word came out that new a high-tech paint can be used to provide solar energy. The problem is, with only a 1% yield, it's not ready for prime time just yet.

But think of the implications. In as little as 20 years, every car, home and building could be coated with solar paint to help provide its own energy.

Also this week, we learned of a new potential fountain of youth. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh used stem cells to make mice live dramatically longer.

But that is just the beginning…

In the future, the U.S. will send a manned mission to Mars. We will land on asteroids.

We will learn to use brain implants to cure diseases like Alzheimer's and to make humans much more intelligent. We'll learn to grow new organs to replaced diseased ones.

Humans will live longer, healthier and more intelligent lives than ever before.

And if all that sounds like plain vanilla, folks, than color me dull. Because I think the best is yet to come.

When it comes to future, Forbes has missed the mark.

In column tomorrow, I'll introduce you to 3-D computing and explain how this latest development out of Silicon Valley can boost your portfolio in the years to come. The press isn't reporting on it yet – but it represents a seismic shift that promises to move markets.

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About the Author

Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.

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  1. Jamie | January 11, 2012

    Awesome read filled with very good points.
    Thanks.

  2. Attila | January 11, 2012

    Since you love this tech stuff, have you heard of this one: U fog (for Utility)? Using the concept of nanotechnology, molecular level computers are developed that interact with each other. Imagine six or more arms that can link up with like or other molecules as directed, creating a bubble, invisible or "solid". With interface to the brain and a library, you could bring them together to simulate your favorite recliner. Then, with a bit more imagination, surround yourself to create the perfect environment, even in the Arctic, or protect from predators. Or use it to float, or fly, not to mention the perfect harem. Will we then be human?

  3. Ryan | January 11, 2012

    Michael–once again, a great article showing us how much we have to look forward to. In your last one about graphene, you mentioned how it could help produce synthetic blood. How would graphene do this?

    Thanks,
    Ryan

  4. Chad | January 18, 2012

    I recommend you look into Professor Cowen's work. It's possible the Forbes column you mention misrepresents his central thesis, but the larger point Cowen makes is that the average person lives (aside from the internet/telecommunications industries, for which Cowen makes noted exceptions) in much the same way our parents did.
    The point is not that we aren't making impressive strides in innovation and technology, but those advances have not yet materialized for the average American. One test subject receiving a breakthrough medical treatment does not mean that technology/treatment is available/affordable to the bulk of the populace. Proof of theory is great, but the technological advancements of previous generations were things like electricity and the internal combustion engine. We haven't done anything that society-altering in quite a while.
    Don't get me wrong, I'm awfully optimistic about the future of technology as well, but it's important to recognize the difference between a handful of anecdotes about test subjects on the margins of society and broad, sweeping innovations that revolutionize the average person's life. I don't see the latter happening in the near future.

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