Most of us have taken on board the coming reality that will involve such technologies as self-driving electric cars, people-carrying drones, lab-grown meats and artificial intelligence, and we fully expect that some people in the forefront of these developments will become billionaires, if they are not already. It is worthwhile, however, to look beyond these innovations to speculate what might be the next breakthroughs that could generate a subsequent crop of billionaires.One approach is to look at the problems that afflict some people’s lives, and which they would happily pay to resolve, or which others might pay for on their behalf. Malaria, for example, kills an estimated million people each year, a majority of them being children under five years old. Its fatalities have been reduced
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Most of us have taken on board the coming reality that will involve such technologies as self-driving electric cars, people-carrying drones, lab-grown meats and artificial intelligence, and we fully expect that some people in the forefront of these developments will become billionaires, if they are not already. It is worthwhile, however, to look beyond these innovations to speculate what might be the next breakthroughs that could generate a subsequent crop of billionaires.
One approach is to look at the problems that afflict some people’s lives, and which they would happily pay to resolve, or which others might pay for on their behalf. Malaria, for example, kills an estimated million people each year, a majority of them being children under five years old. Its fatalities have been reduced by the spread of insecticide-impregnated mosquito nets, and promising experiments have been conducted using mosquitos genetically-modified to kill the plasmodium parasite. The real breakthrough, though, will be a vaccine that makes people resistant to it. The team that develops one could become very rich because this is something that the world will pay for. And Nobel prizes would be an added bonus.
Worldwide obesity is a problem awaiting a solution. Governments have tried behaviour changes such as sugar taxes and advertising bans on so-called junk foods, but these do not seem very effective. There will be huge rewards if someone can come up with a non-surgical medical solution, perhaps a treatment that alters the body’s response to food, or a medication that changes the metabolic rate.
Dementia has become a progressively more serious problem as people’s life expectancy has increased, and has huge resulting financial as well as emotional costs. If anyone can develop an effective treatment to prevent and reverse the degenerative process, it would be a huge commercial success as well as a boon to humanity.
A less destructive problem is male pattern baldness. Men might accept its inevitability, but no-one likes it. Present transplant technology is invasive, and there might be a solution by growing hairs in lab dishes from modified cells and inserting them to fill the bare patches. Even better would be a treatment that persuades the body’s own cells to grow hairs in the places required. Men the world over would pay to retain or regrow their youthful hair.
Many people would prefer to stay younger-looking for longer in life, and people pay fortunes for cosmetic treatments that postpone the appearance of age. They would pay for a medical treatment that achieved this, perhaps by lengthening the telomeres, perhaps by CRISPR technology. Fortunes will be made when this is achieved.
The pandemic has led to great strides being made in the understanding of how viruses work, and it is entirely possible that there might finally be the elusive cure for the common cold. It might be that as strains are identified each year, a vaccine could be administered alongside the annual flu vaccine (and possibly now the annual covid vaccine) that will give immunity for most recipients to the common cold as well.
Allergies can blight the lives of those afflicted by them, including pollen allergies such as hay fever. Present treatments work to suppress the symptoms in some people, but what is really needed is a process that can make people resistant. It might be done using nano gene technology of the type now being used to target certain cancer cells.
On a lighter note, there are riches to be gained for someone who develops an instant hangover cure. It might be a pill left at the bedside table before a night out that would prevent a hangover emerging in the morning, or it might be one taken in the morning that delivers recovery within minutes. Again, this could be a business worth billions.
Midges, the little biting insects that blight the West of Scotland’s summers, cost the Scottish economy billions of pounds in lost tourist income as potential visitors are deterred. If a biological process could be developed to extirpate them, it would be a major boon to the local inhabitants as well as to the economy. Some environmentalists might object, but the niche occupied by the pests would soon be filled by less offensive insects.
Terrorism will remain a problem as long as there are terrorists, and there are possible avenues that might lead to technological ways of combating it. It might be possible in principle to develop a type of radiation that could prematurely detonate explosives, including bullets, within its range. It might even be possible to detect the subtle changes in the brain that take place when someone goes down the route of extremist fanaticism. Since these will probably be developed, if at all, by military establishments, neither of these are likely to make people rich.
It would be good for the country if these, barring the last one, could be developed in the UK, and government could play a role by making such initiatives easier to undertake, to attract investment funding, and made more rewarding to those who put in the effort and take the risks of developing them.
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