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Weekend reading: Healthy future

Weekend reading

A few good reads from across the Web.

Some people should read more 1950’s science fiction to develop a sense of imagination, as well as to appreciate the impossibility of making accurate predictions about the future, even when you earn a living doing it.

The people to whom I’m prescribing a course science fiction (three times a week) are those people who will tell you there will be no jobs left in the western world by 2020 because we won’t make our own televisions, cars, or microwaveable meals.

“What will we do?” they lament.

More than a few of these blinkered thinkers – some of whom I count among my closest friends – are at the very upper-end of the intelligence spectrum.

In fact, I’d say intelligence is a curse when it comes to having a sense of the possible.

Smart people get used to logic, plans, causation and outcomes. But life doesn’t run much like that, and the development of human technology, society, and culture even less so. The pill, the smartphone, the personal trainer, the options trade, the £100 t-shirt – nobody foresaw any of that one hundred years ago. The biggest innovation of the next 20 years will probably also be something we’ve not yet even thought of.

Less clever people are regularly bemused by the world – as well as infuriatingly sanguine about human achievements to-date. Yet this sense of inevitability, that ‘they’ will invent something to sort out the problem, isn’t demonstrably less useful or even less accurate than the intricate fables to ruin that smarter people have been intoning since the Greeks.

This isn’t to say societies don’t fail, of course. They clearly do. But it’s very rarely for the reasons the gloomier predicted. History is more random than that, and we take steps to avoid the problems we can foresee.

  • Monevator motto #23: Timebombs don’t explode.

Besides, even in the field of the futuristic, what goes around comes around. In Invasion of the body hackers, a very interesting piece of futuristic navel-gazing in the Financial Times this weekend, April Dembosky writes:

The concept of self-tracking dates back centuries. Modern body hackers are fond of referencing Benjamin Franklin, who kept a list of 13 virtues and put a check mark next to each when he violated it. The accumulated data motivated him to refine his moral compass. Then there were scientists who tested treatments or vaccines for yellow fever, typhoid and Aids on themselves.

Today’s medical innovators have made incredible advancements in devices such as pacemakers that send continuous heart data to a doctor’s computer, or implantable insulin pumps for diabetics that automatically read glucose levels and inject insulin without any human effort.

Healthcare is just one area ripe for tremendous new growth, even from its currently elevated position – the quest to preserve life has already begun to deplete the extraordinary wealth socked away by the Baby Boomers, and in 50 years time the Chinese and the Indian middle classes will follow.

The share prices of AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKline suggest big pharma’s part in keeping that show on the road is coming to an end. The analysts and investors see no future growth, and have marked them down as dividend-paying cash cows to be put out to pasture and milked.

But perhaps instead of multi-billion pound blockbuster drugs, these firms will make a killing (or more profitably the opposite!) by tailoring personal treatments from an armoury of less sensational patents, then deliver them through a capsule injected into an arm once every three months, until their still-healthy patients are hit by a bus at 120-years old.

Or until they are hit by an anti-gravity hover car from the 1950s. Never write off the future!

From the money blogs

Investing and money mainstream sites

  • The end of cheap Chinese goods? – The Economist
  • Welcome to IPOville – The Economist
  • God, poverty, and the government – BBC
  • These companies pay the wrong dividends – Motley Fool
  • New rules for ‘protected’ investments – FT
  • Investment guide: Exchange traded funds – FT
  • Income seekers scout for alternatives – FT
  • Luck goes with skill like cream and strawberries – FT
  • Bank shareholders are staring at the last straw – FT
  • How Gordon Brown ignored advice and wasted billions – Telegraph
  • 99p Stores profits soar in middle England – Telegraph
  • Warren Buffett lunch sells for $2.3 billion on eBay – Telegraph
  • London’s rich sell up to foreign money and move out – Telegraph
  • Exclusive discount on Jetstorm eco-showerheads – Independent
  • 50 family freebies for summer holidays – The Guardian

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{ 8 comments… add one }
  • 1 Financial Samurai June 11, 2011, 2:46 pm

    Hi Mate,

    Thanks for the highlight. How are things btw? We’ll be publishing the new Yakezie Member posts starting in July. You ready to publish and mingle? 🙂 If you haven’t introduced yourself, or checked out the Yakezie Public Forums, pls do!

    Cheers, Sam

  • 2 The Investor June 13, 2011, 8:56 am

    @Sam – Hey, good to hear from you. Things are absolutely chocked at the moment, I seem to have no blog time except for carving out time for a post! I really wish I’d had more time to be part of phase two of the big Y!! I have the forum details tucked away, and fingers crossed!

  • 3 ermine June 13, 2011, 9:19 pm

    Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series is one of those Fifties SF novels. I loved it as a kid, reading it soon after the Apollo 11 Moon landings. It all seemed so credible then. One of the threads through that book is the inherent contradictions that cause societies to decline and fall were knowable, and the eponymous Foundations could shorten the intercession and dark ages between the fall of the Empire and the rise of its successor. So Asimov did exploding time bombs. I’ve always had a sneaky weakness for the Spenglerian nature of psychohistory.

    Take your point on the unknowable stuff, though I’d say the pace of invention and fundamental change has slowed dramatically. Nothing in my adult lifetime compared with the changes in childhood – colour TV, Moon landings, the advent of central heating, widespread car ownership and mass passenger air travel all happened before I left school. The mobile phone and the Internet are the only revolutionary changes I can place since, and they existed in some form before. It’s been mainly evolution not revolution in the last few decades IMO.

    Anyway, what are you doing reading SF – it’s been so desperately passe since the 1970s 😉

  • 4 Damien June 13, 2011, 9:28 pm

    “This isn’t to say societies don’t fail, of course. They clearly do. But it’s very rarely for the reasons the gloomier predicted. History is more random than that, and we take steps to avoid the problems we can foresee.”
    You missed a BIG point in your article: perhaps that thanks to the people trying to predict the future, we avoid a lot of mistakes.

    Never thought about the fact that people were influenced by those visions and thus change their way of thinking when they make a decision ?
    That’s perhaps what that reason that the society failed rarely for the reasons predicted: they tried to avoid them thanks to predictive visions.

    So I hope that a lot of people will still try to predict the future so we can make safe choice when we are needed to.

  • 5 The Investor June 13, 2011, 9:32 pm

    @Damien — Thanks for your comments.

    I didn’t miss that point (or at least I don’t, but maybe didn’t express it well ) but rather that’s my point about ‘timebombs do not explode’. The stuff that fails us isn’t the stuff we foresee and fret about.

    I am all about counterfactuals, and think it’s ridiculous when, say, £10 billion is spent preventing the Y2K bug crashing the world’s computers only for people to then say “where is the crash?”

    You could say the same about quantitative easing etc…

  • 6 The Investor June 13, 2011, 9:35 pm

    @ermine – Cheers for chiming in! I did read some Asimov when very young, but it all went over my head. I should probably dive back in, but where do we get the time nowadays!

    As regards the pace of change, I’d only note that older people tend to say that, and younger people don’t… 😉

    Certainly I see the Internet as much more important than color TV and central heating. The moon landings is an interesting one though. Practically pretty useless (or at best a propaganda/cold war tool) but very hard to imagine the impact on the human psyche of landing on… what… a pagan god?!

  • 7 ermine June 13, 2011, 10:31 pm

    > I’d only note that older people tend to say that, and younger people don’t…

    It’s a fair cop, guv.

    Internet more important than central heating? The London heated by coal fires, town gas and no running hot water was a foul place in winter, with widespread respiratory ailments – I have never had bronchitis since ’69, I had it every year before then. Air quality was unbelievably rotten, I am too young to remember the pea-soupers but only just. And the mould, everywhere, yack…

    That first moon landing was awesome (also ’69 ISTR) both as a synchronously attended event across the West and also as a general ‘yes we can’ sort of thing. There was a belief that humans could create a better world then, which we have somewhat lost culturally, as Adam Curtis was grouching about in his recent surreal All Watched Over … Machines of Loving Grace. Your body hackers made me think of that programme.

    And yes, I was a primary schoolkid then as opposed to a grizzled cynic. But I’ll still take decent winter heating over the ‘Net anytime!

  • 8 The Investor June 18, 2011, 10:57 am

    @ermine – If the Moon landing created a feeling that has now been lost, then I’d argue it’s impact “wasn’t all that”, as my old Northern girlfriend used to say. 😉

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