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Despite challenges, in many ways the world is changing for the better. Biotechnology could make us healthier, smart cities may make us safer and more productive, and sustainable business practices might help preserve the environment, among other promising trends. Here, we offer 10 major forces that could help create a better world for all.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already improving business practices and helping doctors diagnose medical issues. In the near future, cars will drive themselves, robots will “learn” as they automate manufacturing, and many other mundane and repetitive tasks could be handled by AI-driven systems—leaving people with more free time to explore, create and connect. What comes next? Perhaps new economic opportunities as industries and our conception of, and interactions with, machines are transformed.
The near future of biomedical research, which includes everything from knifeless surgery to 3D-printed kidneys and other organs, could fundamentally alter the way we treat disease and experience health care. For example, CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), a gene editing technique, could help doctors identify and prevent a range of diseases including hemophilia, cancer and HIV.1 This one treatment alone could potentially double the size of the global genomics market to an estimated $22 billion by 2020.2
Where traditional computers use brute force to process information one bit at a time, quantum machines consider multiple pieces of data simultaneously. This seemingly minor difference actually translates into computers that are millions of times faster while using a fraction of the amount of energy. All that extra bandwidth can be used to tackle a host of problems—including understanding how black holes form, creating unbreakable encryption and providing real-time, hyper-localized weather updates—expanding knowledge and improving lives along the way.3 4
Peer-to-peer lending and payments, mobile banking, real-time payments: These and other innovations are transforming financial services for individuals and companies alike. The benefits include the ability to make payments in new ways, with greater ease, speed, transparency and security. Combined, these new technologies have the potential to increase efficiency, improve the integrity of the global financial system and expand financial services to millions around the world who currently lack access.
By 2022, India and China could together contain over 700 million new middle-class consumers—with almost $6 trillion in new spending power.5 China is now the second largest global economy behind the United States, and India could reach third place within the next decade.6 Additionally, China recently graduated 4.7 million people with STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees, while India has 2.6 million new STEM graduates. The U.S., with 568,000, is a distant third.7 These increasingly literate, socially mobile consumer-ready populations have the potential to reorient everything from global trade to geopolitical relations.
The next 10 years could be the decade of public works projects—and not just because of crumbling bridges and highways. Increasingly, the need is for smarter infrastructure, like 5G wireless connections, embedded sensors and the Internet of Things. 8 The world’s cities, which could be home to nearly 70% of the global population by 2050, will need such technologies in order to grow and thrive, while rural residents who lack access to broadband need to be connected.9 It’s estimated that $94 trillion will be needed to upgrade global infrastructure by 2040—providing hundreds of thousands of jobs as well as a host of new opportunities for growth.10
Research suggests that companies with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices can produce competitive returns and tend to be less volatile. 11 This may be starting to affect markets: 66% of U.S. investors say sustainability matters, and interest among millennials in particular could drive an estimated $15-$20 trillion in ESG investments over the next 20 to 30 years.12 As more companies recognize the profitability of sustainability, we can expect a cleaner, healthier world as a result.22
While aging populations challenge pension systems globally, advances in healthcare and technology are helping people live longer and better than ever before. 13 At the same time, younger generations may soon be putting their own stamp on the world. U.S. baby boomers, for instance, will transfer an estimated $30 trillion in assets to heirs in the coming years.14 In one study, 72% of millennials said they value experiences such as travel more than products, and would spend accordingly.15 All of which makes the near future a uniquely exciting time to be old, or young.
People around the world are demanding better government—with less corruption and mismanagement—and are seeing results. India, for example, launched major reforms aimed at promoting foreign investment, streamlining taxes, simplifying labor laws and deregulating industries.16 In Saudi Arabia, with half the population under 25, a new generation is experiencing a gradual expansion of women’s rights, as well as business reforms that have made it easier to start a company and enforce contracts.17 18 Such progressive reforms, if replicated in various ways around the world, could unleash a wave of unprecedented global productivity.
One of the most obvious drawbacks of an increasingly digital and interconnected world is the growing prevalence of cybercrime. And with 6 billion internet users expected by 2022, the stakes will only increase.19 The upside: spending on cybersecurity is projected to exceed $1 trillion during the next four years in order to counter ever more sophisticated identity theft tactics.20 With that mammoth outlay comes not only an expansive opportunity for investors but also a whole new growth area for workers of the future. It’s estimated that by 2021, there may be 3.5 million job openings in the cybersecurity field.21
Past performance does not guarantee future results.
1 National Institutes of Health (NIH), “What Are Genome Editing and CRISPR-Cas9?,” 2018.
2 Grandview Research, “Genomics Market Analysis,” 2014.
3 MIT Technology Review, “IBM Raises the Bar with a 50-Qubit Quantum Computer,” 2017.
4 Institute for Advanced Study, “What Can We Do with a Quantum Computer?,” 2014.
5 The Brookings Institution, “Vision 2030: One Year into Saudi Arabia's Economic Reforms,” 2017.
6 BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, “Global Economic Weekly,” November 17, 2017, page 11.
7 Forbes, “The Countries with the Most STEM Graduates,” 2017.
8 BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, “21st Century Cities: Global Smart Cities Primer,” March 2, 2017.
10 Reuters, “World needs $94 trillion spent on infrastructure by 2040: Report,” July 25, 2017.
11 BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research, “Equity Strategy Focus Point: ESG Part II: A Deeper Dive,” June 1, 2017.
13 Asian Development Bank, “Population and Aging in Asia: The Growing Elderly Population,” 2017.
14 Accenture Consulting, “The ‘Greater’ Wealth Transfer: Capitalizing on the Intergenerational Shift in Wealth,”2016.
15 Eventbrite, “Millennials: Fueling the Experience Economy,” 2014.
16 OECD, “OECD Economic Surveys: India,” 2017.
17 Center for Strategic & International Studies, “Vision 2030: One Year into Saudi Arabia's Economic Reforms,”2017.
18 Doing Business, “Vision 2030: One Year into Saudi Arabia's Economic Reforms,” 2017.
19 The Next Web, “The Global State of the Internet in April 2017,” 2017.
20 CSO, “Top 5 Cybersecurity Facts, Figures and Statistics for 2017,” 2017.
21 Cybersecurity Ventures, “The Cybersecurity Jobs Report,” 2017.
22Impact investing and/or Environmental Social Governance (ESG) investing has certain risks based on the fact that ESG criteria excludes securities of certain issuers for nonfinancial reasons and therefore, investors may forgo some market opportunities and the universe of investments available will be smaller.