Are you ready for drone takeaways, flights to Sydney that last just four hours, and underground parks, asks James Horniman.
At this time of year, many fund managers make predictions for the 12 months ahead. But we encourage investors to have longer horizons. If we are considering what will shape investment performance, we actually need a 2030 vision – to think of what will shape the world in the coming decade and not just the next 12 months.
Drones delivering takeaways, cheap space flights, nanobot health technology, skyscraper farms and underground parks – the world will look very different.
The United Nations estimates that by 2030 the global population will rise to 8.6 billion people (from 7.6 billion today). India will have overtaken China as the most populated country on Earth. Nigeria will be on its way to overtaking the US in third place.
More of us will live in cities – 60% by 2030. More than 100 new megacities (defined as cities with more than 10 million residents) are forecast to develop.
We could see city streetlights streaming traffic data to autonomous vehicles and helping make possible drone delivery of parcels and takeaways.
In crowded cities, vertical space will become more valuable. Public squares and parks may move underground, using lighting that synthesises daylight. Buildings will get taller.
An increased population needs greater food production. Firms such as Intelligent Growth Solutions (IGS) are using old factories to grow stacks of fruit and vegetables in metal trays under LED lights. Artificial intelligence manages lighting, humidity and CO2, in a closed environment that needs neither soil nor sunlight.
Virginia-based Skyscraper Farm has plans for 52-storey skyscrapers that include homes and offices, alongside farms that are capable of yielding 20 harvests a year.
By 2030, we may be growing clothes as well as food. Researchers are currently working with live organisms to grow biodegradable textiles. And researchers in Tokyo have developed a new type of solar cell, which may redefine what it means to buy a power suit. Thin, flexible and water-resistant, these cells can be woven into a jacket that then charges your smartphone.
Despite climate change anxiety, the next decade is expected to see a sharp rise in passenger flights. China is forecast to overtake France as the world’s top tourist destination. It may be a short-haul destination by 2030. Oxfordshire-based Reaction Engines is developing a hybrid rocket that aims to fly planes at 4,000mph, cutting flight times to New York to 60 minutes and journeys to Sydney to four hours.
The space economy is forecast to grow from $244 billion (£187.5 billion) in 2010 to $805 billion in 10 years’ time. Astronaut Don Thomas predicts that by 2030 a trip to space could cost as little as £7,000.
Google Translate could be brought to life by the artificial intelligence, which will offer real time, speech-to-speech translations. It will retain the crucial characteristics of tone and inflection, making us all multi-lingual. Will this diminish the competitive advantage that speaking English offers companies in the UK?
Of course, the workplace will change in the next decade. Automation will assimilate more of our repeatable and manual tasks, jeopardising manufacturing and other jobs. History teaches us that new jobs will take their place.
The office will change. Virtual reality will allow us to hold meetings many miles apart while feeling that we are face to face. With an increasingly mobile workforce, led by a rise in freelancers and portfolio careerists, the 9 to 5 working day may end. That will reduce the costs, fuel use and the environmental impact of long-term commuting.
The next decade promises exciting developments in healthcare. Nanobots – programmed DNA strands that can enter your body and locate cancerous cells, as well as other illnesses – are already being heavily researched. Such technology could deliver medical treatment with such specificity that it eradicates side-effects.
We may finally overcome the problems arising from organ shortages for transplants. One company, United Therapeutics, is developing a 3D printer that uses collagen – the main component of our connective tissue – to produce the structure of a human lung. This can then be infused with stem cells that bring it to life. The technology could herald the mass production of spare human parts.
A big question hanging over all of this is how much progress we can make tackling climate change. Pressures will mount, but hopefully new technology will us lower our impact on the planet.
I have identified some companies in this piece. They are not investment recommendations. Investing in early stage technology is a specialist job and high risk.
So why bother looking beyond the horizon? The answer is simple: we need to be aware of the disruptive threats facing established businesses. When we meet company managers we want to know how they are anticipating these emerging opportunities and how they are responding to the threats. It pays to look ahead.
James Horniman is portfolio manager at James Hambro & Partners.