An Optimist's View

In many ways, the future – as an imagined place, with a capital ‘F’ – has already arrived, and it’s neither as rosy as some science fiction writers and ‘futurists’ depicted it, nor as terrifying as others predicted. Although you would never guess by scanning the headlines every morning, statistical evidence confirms that the world is getting richer and healthier and less violent. Furthermore, since the turn of the millennium, our lives have been transformed in ways that would have been relegated to the realm of magic even as recently as the pre-networked 1990’s.

Sceptical that the entire world is getting richer and healthier (yes, there is a strong correlation between wealth and health), in spite of population growth, pollution, climate change and a host of other evils? Type BBC Hans Rosling, The Joy of Stats into your browser window and watch his engrossing four minute video. Or that the world is actually becoming a much less violent place? Read Steven Pinker’s article in the online magazine Slate: The World is Not Falling Apart – Never mind the headlines. We’ve never lived in such peaceful times. Or that capitalism is flourishing? Savour another four minute video online, this one by Loring Ward, which shows the growth of one US dollar invested in the US stock market since 1927 to $4,050 in 2013, all against the backdrop of Time Magazine covers giving the bad news and dire predictions of the day.

Consider the technology twentysomethings today take for granted. On a device that slips into the back pocket of their jeans, they can instantly communicate in spoken and written language and images with colleagues, friends and family all over the world, make romantic or business overtures to complete strangers, and translate messages sent to them in other languages. They can live stream music and events, watch movies, read books and play games. After doing their shopping (for anything) and banking online, they can research and book restaurants, concerts and travel. Their devices can be personalized with apps that do everything from tracking their physical fitness progress to identifying the stars from their viewpoint of the night sky. And they can settle dinner table disputes in seconds by searching the world’s information on any topic that might come up. In short, they are networked into the entire world.

These innovations in personal technology have happened very recently, but already there is evidence that they are helping to level the playing field for people across the globe born in diverse socio-economic and cultural circumstances. At a global, societal and individual level, this change has been transformational. Individuals have access to quite literally a world of knowledge, and can educate themselves both formally and informally wherever they can get an internet connection.  Social networking and publishing platforms of various sorts allow them to communicate and collaborate with people around the world, building a far-reaching web of relationships to help them advance socially and commercially.

Matt Ridley, author of The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, gives a TED talk on how ideas combine and recombine to create prosperity (When Ideas Have Sex, viewed by nearly 2 million people when I last looked).  He starts his talk with a burst of stats on how the world has progressed in his lifetime: the average per capita income of the average person on the planet in real terms adjusted for inflation has trebled, life spans have increased by 30%, child mortality is down by two thirds, and per capita food production is up by a third. He notes that all this has happened as the world’s population has doubled, leading him to ask the question: How is it that humans become more prosperous as they become more populous?

Although much of the ‘futuristic’ change has happened in the communications and information technology fields, other sectors – such as healthcare, energy and manufacturing – are also starting to experience a technology explosion. It seems likely that these areas will also be transformed in ways we can scarcely begin to imagine. Scanning the pages of any of the books by (the influential but rather controversial) RayKurzweil –– will give you an exhilarating glimpse into an extraordinary future where humans and machines interact in a way that dramatically extends human biological potential, and where a nearly infinite supply of raw materials to make everything we need and want has shifted the emphasis from scarcity to abundance.

There is no question that the scope and rate of technological innovation is changing our lives in radical ways, and that not all of these changes are positive or easily managed. But there is also no denying that life for billions of people on this planet is improving in almost every way.  The outlook for investors is bright, too: all these innovations will create new products and markets, and the companies to serve them.

Daryn Form is a Senior Financial Advisor with Assante Capital Management Ltd. providing wealth management services to principals of family-owned and privately held companies. Assante Capital Management Ltd. is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and is registered with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.  The information mentioned in this article is for general information only. Please contact him to discuss your particular circumstances prior to acting on the information above.  The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Assante Capital Management Ltd.  Rates are not guaranteed and are subject to change at any time without notice.