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By J. Daniel Beckham

Back off to 30,000 feet above health care, squint and see it propelled by seven strong currents. These same currents are carrying other industries into the future as well:

Demographics - changing demographics lead to profound challenges and profound opportunities. Jim Rogers rode a motorcycle around the world to better understand the true nature of the global marketplace. He shared that experience in a best-selling book called Investment Biker, in which he contemplated, among other things, some of the implications of China's policies and future growth for the rest of us: "To give you a sense of the economic entity coming into being, by the end of this decade, China's economy will be the third largest in the world…sometime in the first half of the 21st century. China will come to have the world's largest economy."

Within that broader dynamic, Rogers poses the kind of questions a future scanner needs to ask: "What will be the effect of China's one-child-per-couple policy on its future?...In all of history, such an unnatural policy has never been tried…I ask myself if these children will be so spoiled and selfcentered as to shift the Chinese personality…Will an entire nation of them strive even harder than today's hardworking Chinese?...Then I ask myself if parents and grandparents in such a country will send their only darlings to die in a war."

It takes a youthful mind to do this. To back off and see things whole. To not be dragged into the muck and mire by the gravity of details. To look for "Yeah!" when you're being drowned out by "Yeah, buts." Most experts at the time regarded Rogers' predictions of an emerging Chinese economic juggernaut as delusional.

In the United States, the Baby Boom represents a demographic phenomenon that has repeatedly shaken old assumptions. As the bubble moved its way through society, it fueled an explosion in public schools, skyrocketing tuitions, chaotic run ups in real estate values, and a long-winded bull market in stocks and other investments. In health care, the Baby Boom helped drive up costs. But the aging of the population is not wholly attributable to the Boomers. Just as important are low rates of fertility and mortality, which will cause the population to stay aged even after the Boomers are no longer on the stage.

From 30,000 feet, the one demographic trend that overshadows all the rest is mortality. From ground level we remain seemingly insensitive to the fact that we are, according to an article in the New York Times Magazine by John Tierney, "living through the greatest miracle in the history of our species - the doubling of life expectancy since the Industrial Revolution."

Technology - technology reshapes industries overnight. Cable remade television. And in doing so it remade politics and advertising. The computer I bought my kids 25 years ago had greater firepower than IBM mainframes of a decade before. It started to look and act more like a television and a telephone every day. And the minute I plugged it in, it was already obsolete.

Overhead, moving quietly through space, a satellite sends signals to earth to a small hand-held GPS that can tell me exactly where I am within a few feet any place on earth. I already take it for granted. It's becoming ordinary.

The future often reaches back into the past and snatches things that may not have been relevant or valuable at the time. For example, there was no great demand for magnetic storage of data until the central processing unit (CPU) was developed and began to be widely applied in personal computers. This new demand caused engineers to reach back and bring forward magnetic tape used on tape recorders and then innovate with it. Instead of moving magnetic tape across a recording head as they had on tape recorders, they put the magnetic medium on a moving surface - a disk - and called it a "hard drive."

Andrew Groves, former CEO of Intel, a cancer survivor, once used health care to paint a picture of a future built around information. He imagined professionals at any time and any place being able to combine on a single screen the patient's x-ray, MRI, and lab test results, as well as real-time electronic monitoring and live video. This would allow several minds, in several places, to go to work on the patient's problem at the same time. It was impractical at the time. Then it began to evolve rapidly towards common practice.

Copyright © The Beckham Company             Future Scanning – Mar. 1997 (Prediction)


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