Dreaming the Impossible

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, and the world will live as one.” – John Lennon – Imagine

Have you dreamed of something amazing lately? Something impossible? Implausible? Inconceivable? If not, I highly recommend it. Think about the internet. Today we take it for granted, but twenty years ago, we were just beginning to tap into its power as a medium for easy communication and immediate information. Or how about your phone? That phone in your pocket is likely “smarter” than the computers that helped put a man on the moon. The list of innovations once thought impossible goes on.
Even though the news is filled with stories of tragedy and despair, the world is a dynamic place with amazing people who are doing astounding things. As investors, we should be aware of this. While the effects of many of the innovative endeavors going on today are more difficult to measure than a monthly economic release or earnings report, they can transform our world, the economy and markets in ways that we can’t yet foresee. Consider just a few:

In the 1985 movie, Weird Science, two teenage outcasts tried to create “the perfect woman” with their computer. With the exception of my own wife, we’re not quite there yet, but we’re getting close. In June of 2011, an 83-year-old Belgian woman received a new jaw that was printed on a 3D printer with titanium powder. The jawbone had cavities to which muscles could reattach, and screw-in teeth1. What’s more is the woman was speaking the day after surgery and released from the hospital three days later. What else might be printed in the future? While printing a perfect human being might be a stretch even for dreamers, scientists are already working on printing other useful things like non-embryonic stem cells. The dream is to eventually print organs that wouldn’t be rejected by the recipient since they would be made from their own DNA. Think about the implications.

Do you remember being a kid in the bank and wondering where those little cartridges went when they got sucked through the tube? In the future, the answer might be “L.A.” Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla Motors and the SpaceX project that aims to put people on Mars, proposed the “hyperloop” concept earlier this year. The hyperloop would put small, self-powered pods in a tube, and then using air power and a slight vacuum, these people carrying pods would zip from city to city at speeds of 700 mph or more2. Imagine traveling at airline speed in a bus-like pod. Other new modes
of transport, like hypersonic flight that could send someone from New York to Tokyo in under two hours, are also in the minds of today’s dreamers. It’s simple to imagine, but what would be the unseen implications?

As with most new technologies, there can be great promise and serious controversy. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is one such technology. Ten years ago, American energy independence was a fantasy. Today, it is looking like a possibility. Fracking—a way of releasing oil or gas from the earth with explosives and pressure—is allowing us to recover resources that had been impossible to recover in the past. In fact, International Energy Association (IEA) estimates place the U.S. above Russia in natural gas exports by about 2015, while oil production is expected to eclipse that of Saudi Arabia by around 20173. Needless to say, this is transformative for our economy, markets and the geopolitical balance of power.

While some of these innovations may be investable and world changing, many will probably fail. To be clear, an investment in any of these new technologies should be viewed more as speculation than investing. At the same time, innovation has been a major driver of economic advancement throughout history, so it makes sense to be aware of it. Innovation, in a way, creates something out of nothing, and that can boost economies and markets. While we, as investors, have to remain grounded to our current realities, there is always a little room to dream. After all, it’s usually the dreamers who build the future.

1 BBC, Transplant jaw made by 3D printer claimed as First, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-16907104, February 6, 2012.

2 Musk, Elon. Hyperloop. http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/blog_attachments/hyperloop_alpha3.pdf, August 12, 2013.

3 Rosenthal, Elizabeth, New York Times, U.S. to Be World’s Top Oil Producer in 5 Years, Report Says, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/13/business/energy-environment/report-sees-us-as-top-oil-producer-in-5-years.html, November 12, 2012.

Tags: ,