Taking a look into the future at Tech Forum

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Futurist and investment analyst, Jim Lee, last week took a look at hot technologies and their implications for investors at a meeting of the Technology Forum of Delaware.

Lee is the founder of Strategic Foresight Investments, a Wilmington-based advisory firm that engages in the research and analysis of emerging technologies and social trends.

Lee focused on technologies that have been making a splash including graphene, advanced robotics, 3D printing, OLEDs and the internet of things. OLEDs are organic materials that can emit light when electric current is applied.

3D printing now has a vast range of uses that include everything from miniature model homes to medical uses. The University of Delaware is using 3D printing in making prosthetics for wounded warriors who have lost limbs. Lee noted that breakthroughs are coming in 3D printing, with major players, such as HP entering the market and software that is key to the process.

The internet of things describes the ability to network everything from monitoring kitchen appliances to running heavy equipment without human operators via sensors and other technology.

The technologies often intersect with one another. Lee noted that Amazon is working on distributing its products without humans present via robots and sensors from the internet of things that show exact locations of the merchandise.

John Deere is also pioneering technology that allows tractors to plow fields without human operators and massive ore trucks are already operating in some parts of the world without drivers.

Graphene, a form of graphite that conducts electricity could transform everything from electronics to more efficient batteries. However, graphene is expensive to produce and was only discovered a few years ago, Lee notes.

OLEDs have a vast array of uses that include TV monitors and other massive displays. Costs could eventually be much lower than with existing technologies.

One issue that emerges from these technologies is what Lee describes as the “hold in the doughnut.”

When technologies, like advanced robotics and the internet of things become commonplace, less skilled jobs will disappear and lead to event more disparities in income, with more people being in part of the hole in the doughnut

Lee admitted that investing in leading edge technologies can be tricky, due to what he described as a “hype cycle” that includes the technology being described as the next big thing.

As barriers emerge the hyperbole turns to disillusionment as the technology is commercialized and work gets under way on reducing costs. Later, the technology may emerge as a more mature business, but perhaps not living up to the earlier hype.

A point in the cycle that occurs before the technology matures might be a good time to sell, he said.

One example might be bit coins, an attempt to produce a virtual currency. Once seen as a disruptive technology, the business has been plagued by many scandals, scams and other problems. It is too early to determine if bit coin will emerge and become a viable business, Lee notes.

Lee suggests investors look at “pure plays,” companies that are fully involved in the new technology. Such companies are not always easy to find. DuPont, for example, is a player in the OELD business. However, the technology is a small part of the company’s activities.

The Technology Forum holds social and educational events on a monthly basis.

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