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Here is my outlook for 2008, recorded December 21, 2007.
The Economy 2008 - Paradoxes
2008 will be one of paradox, innovation balanced by turmoil. Because of the tremendous interconnectivity of researchers, the availability of money for innovation investment, the technical tools available, and the urgency of certain needs, there will be more opportunity for innovation in 2008 than ever. Innovation is needed in energy, in health care, and in so many fields. But, innovation will be balanced or held back by turmoil in the financial markets. Some 2 million more “teaser rate” mortgages will re-set in the next 18 months. The resulting debt crisis is not near its end, not even near the mid-point, but still in its early stages. One estimate is that 5.6 million home owners in the U.S. are upside-down, owing more than their house is worth. If prices fall another 10-20%, as some predict, then perhaps 10 million home owners will go upside-down. This would drive losses from $100 billion to nearer a trillion dollars.
Globally, China will continue to grow at a rapid rate, 10-12% per year. It will attract increasing investment and become more of an innovation center.
2008 will also see income disparity come to the fore as a social and political issue. The nature of the current economy is such that small groups of highly creative people can reap super rewards, while the large middle class sees little progress
Technology 2008 - Nano + Solar
The hottest tech areas in 2008 will be nano plus solar. Nanotechnology, particularly the work being done with nanotech batteries, will stand out. AltairNano will ship a 20MW stationary battery in 2008. Nanobatteries will impact the introduction of plug-in electric cars in 2008, and the supply of electric cars from Phoenix, Tesla and others will fall far short of demand. AltairNano will debut an electric garbage truck. In the field of solar, NanoSolar will, according to reports, complete its fabrication plant for printing thin-film solar cells, enough of them to be equivalent to a third to a half a nuclear plant per year.
Nanotech will also impact water filtration. Seldon Tech is using carbon nanotubes to manufacture water filters, actually printed on old newspaper equipment. The carbon nanotubes used to cost hundreds of dollars an ounce, but now have come down to 20 cents an ounce. The Seldon Tech water straw will appear in early 2008.
Beyond nano and solar, the IT development of note in the U.S. will be fiber to the home. Verizon’s FIOS product will challenge the cable franchises to move from the “triple play” (TV, phone, internet) to a quadruple (TV, phone, internet, wireless) or quintuple play (TV, phone, internet, wireless, home management). The question will be whether consumers want all these things bundled for convenience, or whether they care.
Energy 2008 - Oil Rising
As 2007 came to a close, oil was at about $95 a barrel. Some experts predict a dramatic price decline in 2008, following historical patterns. We disagree. The new floor price is about $90, and we will see $100 in 2008, and as much as $140-150 by mid-year. Why? Increasing global demand from countries like China and India, an obvious development. But the real hidden force is increasing demand in the oil producing nations. In fact, the key metric to watch is not oil production but oil exports. Countries like Russia, Venezuela, and Mexico see their exports falling faster than their production, as they use more internally. The same is true in Saudi Arabia. Oil prices are not coming back, and 2008 is the year we realize this is true. [I recorded the video on December 21, 2007- and oil hit $100 on January 2, 2008.]
Environment 2008 - The Big Stall
2007 was the year of the turning point as regards the global climate crisis. Thanks to Al Gore and the IPCC, co-winners of the Nobel Prize, even the die-hards like the U.S. President now acknowledge that global warming is real. But, will 2008 then become the year of action? No, not yet. Instead it will be the year of the big stall, as debate rages about what to do, and mostly all of the relevant institutions and decision makers have to wait until the U.S. administration turns over. We will see private initiatives in energy and transportation, but concerted global action will wait another year.
Population and Venture Capital 2008 - Oh to be Young
The leading edge of the digital native generation is now 18-25 or so. The first generation to grow up in the personal computing and internet age is now at work. The venture capital world increasingly focuses on this generation, the very young creatives, for the breakthrough ideas. Thus 2008 marks a change-over to the next generation for innovation leadership.
Wildcard 2008 - Iraq and McCain
I once heard Alvin Toffler say that predicting likely trends is of less value than is anticipating unlikely events that would really change things if they happened. The wild cards, in other words. Here is my wildcard for 2008: calm in Iraq, not just the level of violence but actual political reconciliation. Were this to happen, in time, the odds for John McCain becoming the Republican nominee, and later being elected U.S. President increase greatly. If four more years of Republican rule resulted, then progressive policy change in health care, taxes, and to a lesser degree the environment and energy becomes much less likely. Another wildcard may scuttle this possibility, regardless of Iraq. That is immigration. Conventional wisdom says a candidate must demonstrate an anti-immigrant stance to be elected. However, the large Latino vote in the U.S. could turn this assumption upside down, and thus work against a McCain win.