Seeing a Future with Optimism

xprizeFrom The Charleston Mercury, December 13, 2012

It’s easy to get caught up in pessimism. It’s in the media everyday: slowing economic growth worldwide, high unemployment here and abroad, Eurozone problems, and terrorist attacks. And, then, what about world issues such as feeding the hungry, providing clean water and wiping out malaria? Can our planet support everyone?

Peter Diamandis thinks so and also that it can provide everyone a life of opportunity. In fact, in his bestseller, Abundance: the Future is Better than You Think, co-written with Steven Kotler, Mr. Diamandis provides great analysis, solutions and hope for the future. His work is based on the confluence of four major trends: exponential technology advances, do-it-yourself (DIY) innovators, techno-philanthropy, and the needs of the poorest billion of our planet.

Technology is changing exponentially. A Maasai tribesman in Africa equipped with a cellphone has better communication than President Reagan did 25 years ago. With an internet-connected smartphone, he has access to more public information than President Clinton did 15 years ago. 

DIY innovators are everywhere. We see all the apps for cellphones. DIY biologists are now beginning to solve world problems. The winner of the 2008 IGEM competition built a vaccine against the virus that causes the most common forms of ulcers. Robots, like we saw in the movie “Robot and Frank”, may have a big impact on reducing the costs of elderly care.

Techno-philanthropy continues to grow. Bill Gates is crusading against malaria. Mark Zuckerberg is working to reinvent education. The founders of eBay are focused on bringing electricity to the developing world. And there are lots of others. 

There are 7 billion people in the world today. One billion currently lack access to safe drinking water and 2.6 billion lack access to proper sanitation. Diamandis contends that a world in which everyone is provided a life of opportunity can lead to increased GDP, standards of living and happiness worldwide.  Solving universal problems helps everyone.

Don’t expect governments to provide solutions. The private sector will do most of the heavy lifting. Mr. Diamandis believes a key is the X Prize competition which he created. Right now, Qualcomm has funded an X Prize of $10 million for the first team able to develop a “tricorder.” This would be a device straight out of Star Trek; a wireless device in the palm of your hand that monitors and diagnoses your health conditions. X Prize competitions will grow in the future. The concept is based upon four principles:  high visibility, breaking bottlenecks, wide range of competitors, varied approaches leading to new industries.

 Let’s put things in perspective. Our world has come a long way in the last few centuries: we’re living longer, wealthier, safer lives. And, the future is looking up.

Les Detterbeck is one of a small number of investment professionals in the country who has attained CPA, CFP®, and CFA designations. His firm, DWM Financial Group, Inc., a fee-only Registered Investment Adviser, has offices in Charleston/Mt.Pleasant and Chicago. Les may be contacted at (843)-577-2463 or les@dwmgmt.com.