An impossible giant leap for biotech

On the very morning of Donald Trump’s election, reports surfaced of an incredible biotech breakthrough in Switzerland … though you may have missed them, with the eyes of the world (ok, the media) fixed on the US.

Researchers at École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, announced they’d made a significant breakthrough in using technology to create a “wireless bridge” between the brain and the body.

The goal is a noble one: to develop technology that allows paralysed people to walk again.

The study involves using technology that allows the brain to bypass the nervous system and control limbs that no longer work. If last week’s announcement was anything to go by, the study is showing real promise. The biotech researchers were able to create the connection in a paralysed monkey, allowing it to walk “tentatively” on a treadmill.

I bring the story up for two reasons. Firstly, because it’s a significant – and, let’s face it, pretty cool – breakthrough that gives hope to the idea we’ll one day be able to overcome the limitations of current medicine and give paralysed people the power to walk again.

And by the way, if you think that’s fascinating – you haven’t seen anything yet! Tomorrow I’m publishing my first book, The Exponentialist. It’s an investigation into the biggest and most important technologies in the world today. I’ll be giving you the chance to get a free hardback copy tomorrow. So keep your eyes peeled for my note – if you enjoy Exponential Investor, you need to read this book!

There’s a second, more important, underlying point here. One that is all too often lost when we talk about technology.

We often fixate on the downside, the unintended consequence, the potential for disruption – and rightly so. But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that most technology is just stuff that’s designed to help us live a better, healthier, happier and richer life.

It doesn’t always have to be about the death of an old industry… or a way of life. Sometimes – more often than not, in fact – it’s just a case of making our current life better.

Giving people the ability to walk again fits perfectly in that category. It’s not necessarily a disruptive or controversial development. It just promises to make life better for thousands of people. It’s easy to forget that. The same is true of other developing technologies – cleaner, cheaper energy, more potent drugs that help defeat diseases we’re all familiar with. It’s all a part of the same biotech story.

And it’s a fundamentally optimistic story. It’s fine to be sceptical and question things. But we shouldn’t lose sight of what the technology we explore in Exponential Investor is all about – making life better, and investing in the companies driving the industry on.

Renewables will ignore Donald and scale up

Then of course you have the breakthroughs that are both disruptive and good for the world. Take renewable energy.

Donald Trump’s election has put a cloud over the industry, due mostly to some of his anti-climate change rhetoric on the campaign trail. Ignore it. There may be some short-term volatility, but ultimately the renewables industry – of which solar, wind and battery tech are primary components that we’ve covered extensively – will need to compete on its own.

The free market is more powerful than short-term policy. And the dynamics of the market are this: renewables like solar are falling in cost and increasing in efficiency all the time. Those forces will help the industry scale up and grow.

Ultimately there will be a point where it’s cheaper and easier to use renewable energy than fossil fuels. That’ll happen at different times, in different industries and different locations. For instance, electric and driverless cars will probably scale up much quicker than large-scale industrial power generation.

But when the price is low enough, it’ll happen. And that will be disruptive.

For instance, I saw an announcement earlier in the week that Texas is planning to add thousands of megawatts of wind power capacity in the coming years. It already generates more wind power than most countries. And now it’s adding the equivalent of the entire state of California’s wind capacity in one go.

One for the sci-fi fans

How’d you like to fly from London to New York in under an hour?

Apparently it’s possible. Or, if you believe what Curtis Bedke, a former US Air Force major general, said recently – it’s “inevitable”.

How? It’s all thanks to something called hypersonic technology. We’ll look at it in more detail another day. It feels like a moonshot to me – unlikely to come off but likely to change the world if it does. Which puts it squarely in Exponential Investor territory.

To me, all of these stories underline the same point. Bad things happen in the world. Governments run up debts, people protest election results, the media report the “bad stuff” with relish (or faux horror).

But that won’t stop the relentless march of progress. It won’t stop new technology being developed that’ll make our lives better, healthier or happier. Don’t let the headlines get in the way of the breakthroughs that will shape the world for the next century. And be optimistic about it!

That’s one of the key messages of my new book The Exponentialist. It’s out tomorrow. You’ll be among the first people to hear about it. And I’ll even send you a free copy, if you like.

I expect demand to be high – to be frank, as an Exponential Investor reader I’d be surprised if you didn’t want to read it – so look out for my note tomorrow morning.

 

Category: Genetics and Biotechnology

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