There is good news if you know where to look....
If ever my advice to avoid the news was challenged I would have to cite last week as exhibit A. Nothing positive or life affirming there I am afraid. As a client said to me the other day, watching it becomes compulsive which probably is exactly what the media want.
My job means it is probably easier for me to avoid the circle of despair being a news junkie brings as meeting fund managers gives me a totally different perspective of what is actually happening in the world outside politics.
The goal of investing is of course to make money in the long term, but what is often forgotten is that by doing so you are providing capital to enable research and development of new and improved products that hopefully make all of our lives better.
You have probably heard of 3D printing. Already the ability of these devices has developed rapidly to the extent that Open Bionics, a Bristol company, is using this technology to develop the world’s first clinically approved 3D printed bionic arm for children and adults with below elbow amputations. It allows them to grip, grab, pinch, high five and fist bump as well as move the fingers individually using a 3D printed prosthetic at a cost of under £1,000.
The ability to make these at such a low cost means that for children they are able to get new arms as they grow as new limbs can be “printed” to match their changing physique. As well as this the company have a deal with Disney which means the arms can have covers put on them to look like any characters in the Disney Universe, which means it can look like Iron Man, a Star Wars character or Elsa from Frozen. So rather than cover up or feel shame about their prosthetics, children now wear them with pride and I’m sure are regarded as the coolest kids amongst their friends.
We are probably only scratching the surface when it comes to Artificial Intelligence (AI). This tends to conjure up fears of machines taking over the world and if it does come to that let’s hope they start with Westminster!
The growth in companies using AI to develop new drugs is huge. This is understandable as drug development has a high rate of attrition and AI, which in effect learns from the results it produces, should be able to speed up development of drugs and consider the side effects they would create far better than the industry does at present.
In 2017 there were 37 companies globally in this arena whereas now there are just under 150. The majority are based in the US but the UK is second with 18 companies whereas France and Germany have 6 and 3 respectively. In fact, per head of population, the UK has the highest ratio of companies working in this area in the world.
Another area where AI can be of use is as an alternative to going to the doctor. When you visit your GP you describe your symptoms, they ask questions to filter out some of the illnesses you may be suffering from and then they either make a diagnosis or refer you to a specialist. A number of companies are developing a “virtual” doctor that can assess whether you need to make an appointment with a GP which should go some way to easing some of the burden on our health service.
Of course it is not only small and mid-sized companies that are continually developing their products. Last week, in Washington State, a 62 year old cyclist was knocked unconscious when he fell off his bike and hit his head on a stone whilst cycling in the mountains. His Apple watch realised he was unconscious, called the emergency services to let them know where he was and texted his son with his location. He says this probably saved his life. Amazing.
There could be downsides to this technology. The latest Apple watch can take an ECG of the wearer’s heart rate which can help identify problems before they become more serious. Perhaps they should have a warning to take it off when watching Question Time, or the news, just in case it thinks you are having a coronary and calls an ambulance!
I have barely scratched the surface with these examples but the reality is the money you invest and developments in technology are making our lives better and will continue to do so. Ironically we probably need to get our heads out of our phones to appreciate it!